Years following the events of “The Shining,” a now-adult Dan Torrance must protect a young girl with similar powers from a cult known as The True Knot, who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
In a sense, it’s nothing short of a miracle that an adaptation of Doctor Sleep exists. After all, 1980’s The Shining is not only one of the most influential horror films of all time, it’s production and release were also plagued by battles between legendary director Stanley Kubrick and legendary author Stephen King that ensured there were two wildly distinct versions.
King infamously hated Kubrick’s adaptation, in particular the treatment and changes of his characters and ending, which caused the author to disown it completely. His dissatisfaction would eventually lead to him writing and supervising a TV version that is much more faithful to the book (spoiler: also not good).
Therefore, creating a sequel to one of Stephen King’s most famous novels and one of Stanley Kubrick’s most beloved works – one where each had completely diverging points of view and conclusions – was no enviable task as Kubrick’s visuals are so iconic they could not be ignored yet King’s story needed to be respected so the writer would not feel insulted once again.
Luckily, director Mike Flanagan is able to successfully merge both visions in order to craft a heartbreaking and spooky tale that also stands on its own.
Flanagan has risen in recent years to become one of the most talented and interesting directors in the horror genre, gifting us with fantastic work in Oculus, Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House.
The director’s usual mix of character based, emotionally driven horror and frightening imagery immensely benefits Doctor Sleep, as this is a movie that is ripe for the psychological exploration of ghosts (both literal and emotional), traumas, regrets and redemption.
He also trusts the material enough to avoid turning it into a parade of jump scares and embraces the more bizarre elements of King’s writing (unlike some other recent adaptations). If you’re expecting this be a scare fest with lots of loud noises, quick cuts and gratuitous violence, this may not be the movie for you.
By purposefully avoiding most modern Hollywood cliches, Doctor Sleep distinguishes itself from other horror movies just as the original did, Kubrick’s idiosyncratic view of King’s story is honored.
As the adult Danny Torrance, Ewan McGregor does a great job. The actor is experienced in playing tortured characters with a gentle soul, a description that fits Danny, with him being a man whose traumas have unwillingly turned him into everything he hated about his father and who must redeem himself.
That act of redemption is based on protecting Abra Stone, a young girl who also has psychic abilities, from evil forces that are hunting her. On her feature debut, Kyliegh Curran shines and the fact that Curran is able to stand tall and next to fantastic actors like McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, proves that she’s a talent we should keep a close eye on.
Speaking of Ferguson, King always puts as much effort into developing his antagonists as his protagonists and Doctor Sleep no exception. As the leader of a traveling group of nefarious psychic vampires, the Swedish actress clearly has fun playing the villainous Rose The Hat. It’s clear that Flanagan needed a strong performer because the film is as much about Rose as it is about Danny, going so far as to share an equal amount of screen time.
She’s even able to make you feel some sympathy for her character as you come to understand that she is doing what she believes is necessary to preserve their way of life. It just so happens that their survival depends on innocent people meeting their end in horrifying fashion.
As a small note, although I have nothing against digital recreations of deceased or old actors, it’s extremely refreshing and satisfying to see old school techniques such as makeup, camera angles and simply hiring similar looking actors to bring back characters from the original film. This is something that the director clearly has a preference for as he used the same method to great success in The Haunting of Hill House and I hope more artists resort to this.
However, for all the things the filmmakers get right, there are few downsides. At 2 hours 32 minutes, its duration can feel slightly overindulgent and it could have benefited greatly from losing some 15 minutes. Also, a slow pace – and the fact that the central plot takes a while to get started – could lead those impatient to grow tired of the movie early on.
Despite overstaying its welcome by some minutes, Doctor Sleep is not only a worthy sequel to both Stephen King’s and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, re-conciliating King’s original novel with Kubrick’s vision while not being afraid of being its own creation with a dreamlike, bizarre, spooky and heartbreaking tale but also one of the years most satisfying and ambitious horror films of the year.