Doctor Sleep, the Mike Flanagan-directed sequel to The Shining does justice to both the Kubrick original and Stephen King while also being a fantastically creepy horror movie.
Warning! Spoilers for Doctor Sleep ahead.
It may be considered a classic among horror films but, I personally have never liked The Shining. More silly then it was scary, nothing about Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film stood out to me aside from Shelley Duvall’s over the top damsel-in-distress performance. However, when placed beside its sequel Doctor Sleep, I’ve come to appreciate it a lot more. It’s a direct sequel that was clearly made by someone who loved the original film.
Something wonderful about Doctor Sleep is that it doesn’t waste any time. This is not a movie, it’s a story, one that I quickly fell into and couldn’t look away from. It may be set 31 years later, in a film made 39 years after the original, but Doctor Sleep plays and feels like an eloquent epilogue to its predecessor.
It starts without stopping even once to explain what’s happening, something that I was very thankful for. Nothing ruins the mood more than the characters dumbly explaining a plot for an audience.
Directed by Mike Flanagan (director of the Netflix series The Haunting a Hill House), Doctor Sleep is based on the novel by Stephen King that follows an adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he struggles to deal with the trauma that happened to him at the Overlook Hotel so many years ago. Following in the footsteps of his father, he’s now a struggling alcoholic that wrestles with rage, addiction, and with having a maze of chaos inside his mind.
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The spirits from the Overlook continue to haunt him but he keeps them at bay by trapping them inside special boxes in his mind, locking them up where they can’t hurt anybody. Danny does all he can to suppress his “shine”, from liquor to just good old-fashioned denial. Until he makes a powerful connection with another child who “shines” (Kyliegh Curran) named Abra. Get it? Abracadabra!
Together they attract the attention of the semi-immortal True Knot, a group led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who feeds off the spirits of children with psychic abilities. A lot of this film rests on Ferguson who brings to life one of King’s worst and most unique villains. Like a pool of black water that you can’t help but stare into, Rose is cold, vicious, and beautiful as she walks and talks like a Goddess of magic.
Doctor Sleep isn’t like most sequels strictly because of everything it had to fit in. Kubrick changed a lot of the story when he made his film, a fact that King famously despised. The book and film versions of The Shining are very different and because of this, its sequel wouldn’t have been easy to translate to film.
As the sequel to The Shining it, of course, followed the events of the novel, not the film, yet the film is meant to follow Kubrick’s version. Flanagan managed the impossible and created a story that’s both the sequel to the 1980 film that finishes what Kubrick started, and also somewhat faithfully adapts the novel.
The final moments of Doctor Sleep are as much a conclusion to both films as it is a love letter to The Shining. It’ll have fans giddy with nostalgic joy.
One major theme that takes place in this story is that of addiction. As a former addict himself, lots of King’s stories deal with addiction or some representation of it, and that goes for both The Shining and Doctor Sleep. Both show the pains and manipulations caused by drug and alcohol addiction, the way it consumes the mind and soul until one is dried up and the other is black.
The Overlook Hotel and the True Knot are addicts that’ll sell their souls for another taste of their favorite drug. After a while, it’s hard to see Rose as anything but an addict. The way she frantically sniffs up the souls, “steams”, like a dying woman smelling her last patch of grass on Earth. And it gets pretty wild once she finally meets Danny who “tastes like whiskey”.
Overall, Doctor Sleep is fantastic. Creepy, haunting, disturbing and beautifully made. A perfect sequel that, if I may say so, improves upon the original.
If this film becomes the victim of dragged on Hollywood franchises, Rose and the rest of her crew, including Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), and Grandpa Flick (Carel Struycken) have got the word “prequel” written all over them.
Doctor Sleep is currently playing in theaters nationwide.