Unlike the island in Lost or your dental office when it comes time for a routine cleaning, no one ever really had to go back to the Overlook Hotel.
The snowy fortress known for its grim, grinning ghosts and bouts of uncontrollable madness has stayed dormant for some time now, for a couple of reasons. For one, it just isn't a prime vacation spot for anyone looking to get a taste of Colorado in the winter. Two, The Shining — Stanley Kubrick’s definitive adaptation of Stephen King's novel of the same name — invited no sequels.
Kubrick is one of the great elemental filmmakers, thanks to his stark takes on the power and beauty of nature, and how humanity is in awe of and, essentially, powerless to its will. Like the scene in his 2001: A Space Odyssey wherein the astronauts investigate the monolith on the moon, Kubrick's audiences are met with a booming, unforgiving regality in the legendary director's work. The Shining is a closed book. Jack Torrance’s story was slammed shut in the 1980 film — the descent into madness felt final. All work and no play made Jack a dull boy, and that was that.
But King found fit to revisit the story of the Torrances in 2013 with Doctor Sleep, a divisive novel that follows Danny Torrance, Jack’s tricycle-riding tot now all grown up, and his gift for Shining. Kubrick's film diverged significantly from King's original Shining novel, and King has expressed his frustrations with the adaptation.
Mike Flanagan, a rising horror figure best known for the recent hit Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, steps in to once again continue one of the most famous stories in the genre. Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep adaptation got King’s stamp of approval, perhaps because it hews closely to the themes of the original material, keeping the emphasis on the battle between good and evil.
Danny, a wayward vagabond with alcoholism issues, is forced to confront his past and his abilities when a young lady with his same gift runs afoul of a band of malevolent pseudo-Shining vampires. The metaphor is clear enough: Your Shine is the good you bring to the world. The bad people want to suck it out of you for their own benefit. You get the gist.
There's a moral simplicity to Doctor Sleep's characters, unlike the bubbling bog of ambiguity in Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s easy to know who you’re rooting for, and who you’re rooting against. Ewan McGregor brings a sense of timidity and quiet nobility to his Danny, while Rebecca Ferguson elicits some genuine terror as the film’s central antagonist, Rose the Hat, the most evil film character to don a top hat since Bill the Butcher in Gangs of New York. Impressive newcomer Kyliegh Curran plays the Shine-friendly girl Danny mentors.
It’s easy to see why The King of Horror enjoyed this one so much — Flanagan’s approach serves King’s story and ideas well. It's clear the legendary author wanted to give Danny a chance at resolution after his tumultuous childhood and expand on why people Shine and why austere forces like Rose the Hat and the spirits of the Overlook Hotel wish to take advantage of that power.
Flanagan’s film is stoic and reverent. He approaches the Overlook like it's a church, and he's a preacher walking in during a service. He quietly sits down and prepares to deliver his homily, but he’s still going to say what he has to say. Flanagan’s film is ultimately much more optimistic than Kubrick’s. That’s where the film finds its greatest strengths.
This one might leave you a bit more energized and hopeful than the Kubrick film. Kubrick had no problem showing us what happens when the Shine goes out. Flanagan seeks to do the opposite: Maybe, the film argues, we’ll all Shine on.
This post originally appeared in our sister publication, the Nashville Scene.