Film Review - Doctor Sleep (copy)

Ewan McGregor stars in “Doctor Sleep.”

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There’s really only one person who doesn’t like “The Shining,” Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror movie masterpiece. The problem is that person happens to be Stephen King, who wrote the book the movie is based on.

The tension between King and Kubrick’s visions has bubbled for years. In 2013, King tried to reclaim the ghostly story of the Overlook hotel and the Torrance family as his own, by writing a wildly successful sequel novel, “Doctor Sleep.”

Now, “Doctor Sleep” arrives at the big screen. Directed by Mike Flanagan (Netflix’s “The Haunting of Hill House”), it has a herculean task: to make a sequel to one of the most famous movies ever made, and an adaptation of a novel written by a guy who hated the movie.

Danny Torrance is back, except now he goes by “Dan” and is played by Ewan McGregor. He’s a fortysomething deadbeat, trying to drown out the ghosts in his head with liquor. At first, it looks like we’re going to get a sort of supernatural take on McGregor’s immortal role in “Trainspotting” (there’s even a haunted baby).

And then “Doctor Sleep” goes in a totally different direction. Ten minutes in, Danny has overcome his alcoholism and made peace with his psychic abilities, which he calls “shining.”

But there’s still a movie to fill. So suddenly there’s a group called the True Knot, a vagabond gang of superhumans who somehow both can shine and survive solely on a mysterious substance called “steam,” which shiners give off in their dying moments. Confused? So is the movie. It also can’t take the premise seriously. But who could, with antagonists with names like Snakebite Andi, Crow Daddy, and a ringleader incredibly called Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, creepy, campy and very little else). “Doctor Sleep” takes Jack Torrance with his ax and replaces him with a gang of steampunk vampires.

In order to fight the True Knot, Dan enlists the help of a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran, very good in her debut film), a girl with shining abilities that outpace even his own.

Yes, the sequel to one of the most beloved and unique movies ever made is a pretty generic fantasy story. The protagonist is a precocious child who, along with the help of a world-weary older friend who doesn’t really believe in the magic anymore, has to defeat the bad guys. Why are they bad? Because they’re the bad guys, and that’s how stories like this work. Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.

The film fares better when it tries to be a sequel to Kubrick’s vision rather than King’s. The return to the Overlook hotel is stunning, one of the greatest 20 minute stretches in a movie this year. And McGregor is truly powerful, quiet and nuanced, making you yearn for the days when he could just be an actor, not a tent pole to build your movie around.

“Doctor Sleep” would have been better served as a quiet character study about Danny overcoming the alcoholism that doomed his father (well, you know, that and the ghosts). As is, “Doctor Sleep” is content to widen the mythology of “The Shining” without deepening it. It’s a big, strange, complicated movie. I just wish it had been a good one.

6.5 Stephen King stories that are set in New Hampshire, which isn’t technically Maine, but close enough out of 10 Stephen King stories that are set in New Hampshire, which isn’t technically Maine, but close enough.

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