There seem to be very few tasks more difficult in movie making than trying to make the next chapter in one of the most iconic horror movies (and books) made over 30 years ago, no? Not only is this a difficult task, but you’re also trying to adapt a follow-up to the story of The Shining that not only pleases fans of the movie adaptation by Stanley Kubrick, but also one that its author, Stephen King, approves of. (He publicly has stated that he hates the Kubrick film.) With King’s properties being a hot commodity in Hollywood right now, Doctor Sleep, even if not handled properly, still easily could have been a cash grab. But thankfully, director Mike Flanagan handles Doctor Sleep with confidence and impeccable attention to detail, with the final result being a wholly satisfying next chapter in Danny Torrance’s story.
Struggling with alcoholism, Dan Torrance remains traumatized by the sinister events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel when he was a child. His hope for a peaceful existence soon becomes shattered when he meets Abra, a teen who shares his extrasensory gift of the “shine.” Together, they form an unlikely alliance to battle the True Knot, a cult whose members try to feed off the shine of innocents to become immortal.
Clocking in at over two and a half hours, Doctor Sleep earns its runtime by laying a foundation for all those involved in the story, including Danny (Ewan McGregor), Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with the same gift as Danny, and Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) with her cult following called the True Knot, who feed on people with powers similar to those of Danny and Abra. Instead of shoehorning characters who play second fiddle to Danny and his continued story, characters like Abra and Rose the Hat and her followers are given almost as much screen time as Danny and are far more interesting in some respects than the ones who were merely supporting cast to Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance in The Shining. While Ewan McGregor’s Danny is one of his best performances in some time, the two secondary characters in Doctor Sleep are the ones who shine brighter. Kyliegh Curran is one of the best child actresses to come out of a horror movie in recent memory and will undoubtedly start getting phone calls for future projects after this movie’s release. Rebecca Ferguson’s portrayal of Rose the Hat is a career-best performance to date. While Rebecca still has a long future ahead of her, this performance is both haunting and memorable in its delivery and one of the best antagonistic horror characters in a movie in the past few years. While nothing scary, Rose the Hat and the other members of the True Knot will send chills down your spine.
For a good portion of Doctor Sleep, the structure of the story feels similar to Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, which Flanagan also made, and works just as effectively here. And when the movie shifts gears by focusing on the Overlook Hotel, the transition is equally parts smooth and creepily fun, giving both audiences and fans of its predecessor what they want. The callbacks to Kubrick’s movie (without spoiling anything) are not nailed to your head, forced or over-the-top, but are also another reason this follow-up is worth the price of admission. Set design for Doctor Sleep is top-notch, especially in attention to detail for the recreation of the Overlook Hotel from The Shining movie adaptation. The cinematography from Michael Fimognari is also quite beautiful and will seem similar to fans who have seen The Haunting of Hill House, a production for which Fimognari also did the cinematography.
While Kubrick’s The Shining is undoubtedly an all-timer for movie buffs (this guy included), there is no balanced dichotomy of good versus evil in the 1980 movie. But in Doctor Sleep, it is ever-so present in showing what people like Danny can do with their power, using it for either good or in horrifyingly evil ways. And ultimately, I think that’s what makes this movie shine as a whole, by giving its audiences glimmers of hope. (I also think that’s why Stephen King gave his seal of approval to this adaptation.) While scares in Doctor Sleep are not that frequent, it is time we dismiss the notion that every horror movie should generate scares of any kind and at all times. Of course, changes from King’s novel abound here–just like any of his other adaptations–but they all work well in this cohesive story that is both satisfying to its mastermind storyteller and its master filmmaker of the 1980 adaptation. Flanagan balances everything near-perfectly in Doctor Sleep, which is one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made and one that will leave its viewers unsettled with demons from their past.