Doctor Sleep is directed by Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game) and stars Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance. If you haven’t read the books, then this is effectively all you need to, and should, know before stepping into the theatre. Fans of Stephen King will know that Kubrick’s The Shining adaptation wasn’t exactly faithful to the book. Well, those fans can rest easy as Flanagan has made a worthy sequel to both the book and the film.
Doctor Sleep takes place in the same cinematic universe as Kubrick’s 1980 classic, but also includes the more fantastical elements from King’s books. Starting off with a small flashback to a young Danny learning to control his powers, we jump about 30 years into the future. Having escaped the harrowing events of the past, Danny is living in a small town away from the prying eyes of the evil spirits who once haunted him. At the same time, he’s also become very alcoholic.
Alongside him, we also follow a cult known as The True Knot, led by Rebecca Ferguson’s enigmatic performance as Rose The Hat. The True Knot’s purpose is, well, unknown. But their methods aren’t. Having survived millennia by preying on those with the Shine, they find out about Abra (Kyleigh Curran), a young girl whose Shine is much more powerful than anyone has ever encountered. At the same time, Abra and Danny form a connection and bond over their powers.
Alright, now that we’ve set up the basic plot, let’s talk about the technical aspects. Flanagan shines (sorry) in his technical wizardry behind the camera. Having written, directed and edited this film, it’s rare to see a major studio giving so much control to a filmmaker over a popular property. But then again, Kubrick also had full control over his vision of the first adaptation. But this control doesn’t warrant every part of the movie to be outstanding, much as I want it to be.
The first act is slow. Very deliberately slow. We don’t just jump onto the plot. We wait for it. As Flanagan lets us peek into the lives of our characters, the feeling of uneasiness takes over. And it’s just this fear of the unknown and unexplained that makes up so much of the horror in the film. These two films and their source material don’t abide by the usual horror tropes. Say goodbye to jumpscares, as these films fully embrace the fact that fear comes from the unknown. With that said, Doctor Sleep does manage to take a more direct approach to horror.
A lot of that can be attributed to the film’s more fantastical elements. The True Knot’s vampirical imagery, the treatment of the shining as a superpower, all of these things help the film with its more mainstream approach. Even the title itself has a superhero ring to it, as it becomes Danny’s alter-ego later in the film. Another thing that I really liked was the use of actual actors and using make-up to play older legacy characters.
If you’ve seen the trailers, you’ll know that the film does revisit The Overlook. While that does happen in the third act, and it indulges itself in a lot of homages to The Shining, it doesn’t detract from the experience. And of course, that’s where things get really crazy, with it revisiting and recreating scenes from its predecessor.
Doctor Sleep is a sequel that manages to respect the classic story and stand on its own. And that is rare to see these days.