Prior to seeing the movie, I read Stephen King‘s novel “Doctor Sleep.” Although the majority of the book was wonderful, it lived up to the running joke in “IT Chapter 2.” King has trouble nailing the endings. It wasn’t necessarily bad but was anti-climatic and derivative of some of King’s other stories. With “Gerald’s Game”, Mike Flanagan has already made one successful adaptation on Netflix in addition to his amazing take on “The Haunting of Hill House.” But how would he handle an adaptation of this material? The story is a sequel to the original novel, not the film, which had a very different ending and is generally despised by King.
The first half of the movie covers a staggering number of years. It picks up mere months after the events at the Overlook Hotel. Young Danny is still being visited by spirits, both benevolent and otherwise. Haunted by the dead for the majority of his life, we meet Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) next as an adult who has turned to alcohol to quiet the voices. Over the next decade we see him hit rock bottom, and then slowly claw his way back to sobriety with the aide of his friend Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). During this period we catch glimpses of the two opposing forces that will soon crash into his finally stable life. The first is a group of travelers known as the True-Knot lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Essentially spiritual vampires, they have extended their lives by consuming the “steam” of those who have the shine. Since quality “steam” is found in the young, and “purified by fear and pain” the audience witnesses some very disturbing deaths. Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) is the other half of the equation, a young girl who is particularly gifted. Her psychic abilities are a beacon to those who would have her for dinner.
The excessive world-building and backstories threaten to make the film feel front-loaded, but instead, it builds our investment in the characters. This is accomplished not only through the exceptional screenplay but the perfect casting and performances. Rebecca Ferguson absolutely devours every scene she’s in portraying Rose with a metaphysical sensuality that is as intoxicating as it is deadly. Kyliegh Curran, who has only one prior IMDB credit gives quite an impressive performance. It’s not easy for a young girl with psychic powers to seem so natural and believable. Accolades should also be given for the choice to use real-life human actors to play characters from the previous film. So many are jumping on the CGI de-aging bandwagon that it was refreshing to see this film reject it. Instead of being distracted by the uncanny valley of not-quite-good-enough effects, we’re haunted by their doppelgangers.
Adapting a novel to the screen is always a juggling act of staying true to the story, yet cutting material and characters to fit a reasonable runtime. Again, Flanagan deftly navigates these dangerous waters. He’s made some bold choices, particularly in the final act, and there are some characters who don’t get the screen time they deserve, but the final product is better for it. It’s difficult to not explore the events of the film’s climax, but to do so would rob the audience of some delightful surprises. Suffice to say, Mike Flanagan has successfully achieved the impossible task of crafting a sequel that perfectly blends the film and written versions of “The Shining.”