When The Shining was originally released, the reactions were not too favourable. Stephen King famously hated Stanley Kubrick’s interpretation of his book. Critics brushed it off as “boring” and “lackluster” and the film was nominated for several “Razzie” awards. However, in the 40 years since its initial release, the film is now being lauded as one of the best horror movies ever made and some considering it Kubrick’s masterpiece. Doctor Sleep, while not possessing the technical brilliance that The Shining exuded, is very much a worthy follow-up to the original story which will please fans of the movie and book alike.
Doctor Sleep picks up mere months after the events of The Shining in 1980. Danny Torrance and his mother Wendy now live in Florida, far away from anything that could remind them of the events of The Shining. Danny is still literally haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel but with the help of the ghost of Dick Hallorann, he finds a way to cope with these morbid projections by locking them away in psychic coffins in his mind. The movie also sets up the existence of the main antagonists of the movie, Rose the Hat and her cult of “shining” stealing vampires, the True Knot. This cult of vampires feeds off of “steam” an essence that comes from individuals who posses that ability to “shine”
Fast forward to 2011, where Danny (now Dan Torrance) is struggling with alcoholism, not too dissimilar to how his father was. Dan gets into fistfights at bars and steals money to get by. He eventually moves to a small town to restart his life and goes to AA regularly and gets a job as an orderly at a hospice. It’s here that he puts his shining abilities to good work to help the dying pass away peacefully.
8 years pass and Dan receives a psychic message from a young girl named Abra, who experiences a vision of the True Knot murdering a young boy in Iowa. Dan, at first reluctantly, helps Abra find the True Knot. Dan and Abra concoct a plan to eliminate the murderous cult, but unfortunately Dan and Abra’s friends and family get caught in the crossfire. From there, Dan takes Abra to the Overlook Hotel to trap Rose the Hat in the clutches of the spirits of the hotel. Unable to control the massive power of the hotel, Dan stays behind to destroy the Overlook Hotel once and for all. Abra survives the experience and reaches out to Dan after the events to assure him that her and her mother will be safe.
The great thing about Doctor Sleep is that it doesn’t try to be The Shining. It does have some great homages and callbacks to the 1980 movie, but it’s never copying the techniques that made The Shining so mesmerizing to watch. Mike Flanagan, the director of Doctor Sleep, has become a horror movie master in his own right after making quality horror movies such as Oculus, Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil. With this film, he makes a step beyond basic horror, but also explores themes of PTSD, Alcoholism, and loss all while keeping his horror tendencies with a few scenes that get under the audiences’ skin.
As we’ve known for 20 plus years, Ewan McGregor brings a top notch performance every time he steps up to the plate and him playing Dan Torrance is no different. Playing an alcoholic can sometimes fall into parody very quickly but McGregor straddles the line very well and gives a subtle and tragic performance. McGregor has very rarely dropped the ball in a leading role and this role is no different.
The character name alone “Rose the Hat” may cause some giggles but Rebecca Ferguson portrays the character in a chilling yet believable way, her presence stops everyone in their tracks from the first time she’s on screen until the very last. From Rose’s introduction, the audience immediately understands why Rose could gather a group of followers so easily. She also doesn’t need make-up or CG to augment her performance as she perfectly jumps between being sweet and seductive to being a horrifying monster in seconds flat.
Unfortunately, the movie does lose some “steam” (pun intended) as it rolls into the third act. The majority of the movie builds out an extended mythology and introduces us to fantastic new characters, while the last 45 minutes fall into The Shining fan worship. In the last act, Dan wanders around the Overlook hotel, exploring the horrifying incidents from his childhood. It’s a very thin reason for Flanagan to recreate some of the most iconic scenes from the original movie but in doing so slows the plot down to a halt. Perhaps it was a studio note to include more obvious references to The Shining and the third act just happened to be the best place to include them. The movie took a deep hit trying to cater to the nostalgia crowd.
Besides the climax, “Doctor Sleep“, is one of the best horror movies of the year and does its best to live up to The Shining without trying to be The Shining. Film adaptations of Stephen King’s tend to be hit or miss but this one is a must see for anyone who is a fan of Stephen King’s work, Mike Flanagan’s work or a horror movie fan in general.