No one can serve two masters. Says so right there in the Bible. But that doesn’t stop the makers of “Doctor Sleep,” the decades-later follow-up to “The Shining,” from trying to prove otherwise, at least in a creative sense.
One approach that director Mike Flanagan (“Gerald’s Game”) and his Ewan McGregor-led cast might have taken: a straight adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 sequel novel, a story unconcerned with how Stanley Kubrick and Jack Nicholson iconically interpreted “The Shining” for the screen. Another route: let Kubrick’s vision continue to steer the story.
Not surprisingly, “Doctor Sleep” splits the difference, dutifully attempting to honor both King’s writing and Kubrick’s film simultaneously. The movie actually manages to pull it off for a time, until in the last act revisited concepts start to play more like ill-advised retreads.
A skillful flashback opener returns us to the remote Overlook Hotel, still a source of supernatural torment for young, long-fled Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd) until he’s again helped by ghostly guardian Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly, of “Supergirl,” terrifically channeling Scatman Crothers). Concurrently, we also meet New Age vagabond Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her crew, creepy virtual immortals who feed on the essence of kids able to “shine” as Danny does.
Fast-forward 30-odd years, and it turns out that alcoholic drifter Dan (McGregor) hasn’t beaten all of his demons. He lands in small-town New Hampshire, longing for direction, something he finds through an empathic hospice gig that stirs his suppressed abilities, as well as through a new friendship with teen psychic powerhouse Abra (newcomer Kyliegh Curran). But guess what baddies are itching to pal around with Abra, too?
You’d think that McGregor’s casting would have been all about the sharpness he can convey, a vibe that might believably link him to Nicholson’s headcase. Instead, the film mines its lead’s softer side, unevenly but to poignant effect in the hospice scenes. Routinely spunky Curran actually gets a chance to project some edge for McGregor, in an electric sequence that has Abra acting as Dan’s psychic mouthpiece. And Ferguson certainly brings plenty of danger, all predatory purring and smirking as a villain with Nicholson’s relentlessness.
The push to echo Kubrick works well in the limited early dose we’re given, but ultimately the movie takes it too far. In a departure from King’s “Doctor Sleep,” the action circles back to the Overlook for a history-repeating climax that’s mostly a comedown, complete with a bad-idea cameo from Henry Thomas, of “E.T.” Speaking of Spielberg, didn’t we just relive all this in “Ready Player One”?
Apparently, this extended sequence was prompted by problems that King famously had with Kubrick’s take: the evil confronting the Torrances was too enigmatic, the alcoholism and fracturing-family themes handled too obliquely. Consider the issues addressed — even if they’re not this sequel’s most shining moments.
Tom Russo can be reached at email@example.com.
Directed by Mike Flanagan. Screenplay by Flanagan, based on the novel by Stephen King. Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis. Boston theaters, suburbs. 151 minutes. R (disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity, drug use).