Did The Shining need a sequel? Well it’s got one now, adapted by director Mike Flanagan from Stephen King’s 2013 followup novel. It is more than half an hour longer than the Stanley Kubrick film, although it seems more than that – laborious, directionless and densely populated with boring new characters among whom the narrative focus is muddled and split. Your attention is distracted from the central figure, who might otherwise have been an actual object of fascination: Danny Torrance, once the kid in the Overlook hotel, pedalling his trike around the eerily endless corridors and eventually pursued by his axe-wielding dad, unforgettably played by Jack Nicholson. The Kubrick movie, from 1980, famously disliked by King, is a stylistic influence on this sequel, which references the big moments. (King has an executive producer credit. So perhaps he came round to it.)
Now Danny (forthrightly played by Ewan McGregor) is all grownup, unemployed, homeless, addled with alcoholism and post-traumatic stress disorder as a result of the grisly finale in the snow at the end of the first story. His mum, Wendy, died not long after they moved away; young Wendy is played in flashback by Alex Essoe. Adult Danny is still burdened with the telepathic power of “shining” (past tense “shined” not “shone”), but he has cultivated the art of shutting up his Overlook demons in imaginary boxes in his mind.
After drifting, boozing and brawling from town to town, Danny finally goes into Alcoholics Anonymous. His fellow AA attendees find him a place to stay and a job as an orderly in a hospice, where he gets the fond nickname Doctor Sleep because of his telepathic empathy with those poor souls in extremis, gently shepherding them to the final slumber. Elsewhere, though, new supernatural forces both good and bad are on the march. A girl, wittily named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), has powers like Danny’s, and really needs his mentorship, like the guidance Danny once got from wise old Dick Hallorann (originally played by Scatman Crothers, here by Carl Lumbly). There is a sinister new evil band on the loose: a gang of vampiric parasites preying on children, led by a creepy hippyish figure called Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). They inhale the life-force “steam” from their horribly slaughtered young victims.
The questions to ask about any Shining sequel obviously relate to the scariest thing in the first film: the hand-holding twins in the corridor. How about them? Could they somehow have grown up into ghostly adult twins now? Will they have an amusing and ingeniously conceived role to play in the sequel? Will Danny wind up getting off with one, without realising the other one’s hiding in the wardrobe? Well, I wish there were satisfying answers to these questions. Instead, the central evil role is disappointingly assigned to Rose the Hat, who just isn’t as scary or interesting.
Eventually, after a long, long series of pointless narrative detours, we find ourselves back in the ruined Overlook hotel, and there’s a frisson there, undoubtedly – especially when we see the hole in the wall made by Torrance’s axe as he shouted “Heeeeere’s Johnny!” But it is almost cancelled out by the realisation that everything before it has been a bit redundant. Despite some big moments, this seems cumbersome and unnecessary: a dimming of the original.
• Doctor Sleep is released in the UK on 31 October, in Australia on 7 Nov and in the US on 8 November.