Warner Brothers didn’t seem to know quite how to sell Doctor Sleep to the public. The confusing trailers promised a very direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), rehashing that film’s iconic imagery but remaining vague on actual story details. Additionally, when audiences did get an official Shining sequel in the form of Stephen King’s 2013 novel (of which this is an adaptation), people didn’t exactly lose their minds at the result. So when Doctor Sleep ended up being a brutal financial flop last November, few even noticed. What was surprising, however, was that a frequently overpraised director like Mike Flanagan managed to take one of the author’s weakest novels and turn it into the strongest King movie since 2007’s The Mist.
Available February 4th, the biggest sell of the home video release (on 4K, Blu-Ray and DVD) is the inclusion of a three-hour director’s cut. It’s a testament to Mike Flanagan’s idiosyncratic vision that the theatrical cut already ran at 152 minutes. It’s a shaggy, offbeat mix of horror and drama that shines brightest when focusing on the redemption of its lead character, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who’s been living much of his adult years as a cowardly drunk but finds an unexpected goodness in himself when given the opportunity to protect a similarly gifted child with telekinetic powers (Kyliegh Curran). McGregor really sells Danny’s earnestness while Kyliegh Curran’s performance adds layers to her character that make her more than just a tired Hit-Girl clone.
The director’s cut adds further emphasis to these characters’ relationship, adding more scenes between the two as well as some subtle, but crucial, re-editing, that mends some of the awkward pacing in the first act. This new version drives home that Flanagan truly understands the appeal of King’s best work, which is that the dude is a total cornball. The only thing King loves more than murderous clowns and rabid St. Bernards is the gee-whiz modesty of your troubled everyman, someone who ultimately musters up the courage to face off against the worst kinds of evil. In fact, in terms of tone, Doctor Sleep feels more in line with the hokey, mystical melodrama The Green Mile than The Shining.
The movie itself is still far from perfect; no matter how much scenery she chews, Rebecca Ferguson never lends her villain Rose the Hat the menace she deserves. Also, while the director’s cut does indeed clean up many of the theatrical version’s questionable visual effects, the psychic vampires and their “feeding rituals” come across as silly in all the wrong ways. Luckily, the story’s steady emotional center carries the burden of a B-movie plot.
The three making-of docs included on the disc feel more like extra promotional material than insightful glimpses into Flanagan’s creative process. That is sadly par for course these days in terms of Blu-ray extras, where lengthy interviews with the cast and crew are sanded down into five-second soundbites of how amazing it was to be on set every day. Still, if you’re part of the small faction of Doctor Sleep fans such as myself, the director’s cut makes this a necessary purchase.