Although the title gives no clues to the fact, Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining, Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film. Even if you’ve never seen The Shining, you likely have heard Jack Nicholson’s famous line, “Here’s Johnny!” or seen the iconic screengrab of his face bursting through the door as he says it at least once in your lifetime. Doctor Sleep has a lot to live up to—there is a legacy to protect, especially as it crosses generations from its 1980 original. Why Stephen King chose to write the book’s sequel twenty-six years later is beyond me, but I’m glad he did, for the sake of this movie.
The events of the film take place in current day, with Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), the son of Jack Torrance, now a full-grown adult and an alcoholic. He possesses “the shining” which is a type of clairvoyant and telepathic power. Danny is haunted by his memories at the hotel from which he and his mother escaped. In attempts to recover, he attends AA meetings and works at a hospice comforting dying patients with his psychic abilities. Danny is able to telepathically communicate with Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl whose “shining” abilities are apparent and extraordinary even in her toddler years. Meanwhile, the True Knot, a group of cultish vampires, feed off the “steam” produced by dying people similar to Danny and Abra.
Doctor Sleep is actually terrifying in its graphic imagery and creepy atmosphere. One particular moment is pretty harrowing—involving the murder of a young boy. My friend left the theater at the beginning of the scene and came back ten minutes later. It’s hard to watch, but effective. Each moment of the film filled my heart with unease and anxiety, which speaks to the movie’s ability to sustain tension throughout. The three leads are fantastic—McGregor, Curran and Rebecca Ferguson each bring their distinct personalities to the screen. The film also answers a lot of questions still remaining after The Shining. Namely, what exactly is it? What does it have to do with the Overlook Hotel?
Of course, when comparing Doctor Sleep to The Shining, we expect to see a continuation in theme and style. However, the former is different in tone and style. Kubrick’s adaptation was subtle, mysterious and nuanced, leaving lots of room for interpretation. Director Mike Flanagan’s on the other hand, is overt, loud and violent. In addition, the throwback clips of the first film were all recreated with new actors, which seems pointless since the filmmakers could have easily just used the original infamous scenes, which are not easily replicable in impact.
Overall, the unique story and form of Doctor Sleep work to its benefit; it stands alone as a great horror thriller and piece of filmmaking. Some credit should be given to Stephen King as well, who crafted a great storyline in a genre that so often lacks this very quality. The runtime is long, two and a half-hours, but it flies by. Plus, you won’t be disappointed by the finale