Stephen King’s novel and Stanley Kubrick’s subsequent film adaptation of “The Shining” have become iconic pieces of horror in both of their respective mediums. Though there are stark differences between the two, they both follow a similar story of former alcoholic Jack Torrance and his family as they move to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado only to be tormented by the spirits that live there.
Though King published the original novel in 1977, it wasn’t until 2013 that its follow-up book “Doctor Sleep” would be released. It wasn’t long after that that a film adaptation was announced. Because of budget and development issues, the film struggled to get off the ground, but when 2017’s “It” turned out to be a massive success, Warner Bros. fast-tracked the project.
The film adaptation of “Doctor Sleep” would go on to be directed by Mike Flanagan, who would attempt to bridge the gaps in plot and story structure between King’s novel and Kubrick’s film.
The film is set decades after the events of “The Shining,” and it follows an adult Danny “Dan” Torrance played by Ewan McGregor. Dan connects with a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), who has mind powers — or shine — similar to his own. When a cult lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), whose members also possess the shine, take notice of the girl, Dan decides to do everything he can to protect her, even if that means facing his own disturbing past with the Overlook Hotel.
Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining” is one of my favorite films, and it’s widely considered to be one of the best horror films ever made. Since that film is so fantastic, I was a bit apprehensive about jumping back into that world, as it would be so difficult to live up to what came before.
While “Doctor Sleep” is not on the same quality level as “The Shining,” that’s certainly no knock on the film, as it is still an incredibly thrilling, thought-provoking and brilliantly executed follow-up that is a must-see for fans of the original.
I believe the biggest strength of “Doctor Sleep” is how it manages to stand on its own, tastefully building upon the groundwork laid by “The Shining,” rather than using references and similarities to that movie as a crutch.
This film has its own narrative that isn’t tied directly into the events of “The Shining.” Rather, by naturally looping Dan into this story of a cult-hunting Abra, the film is allowed to pull from its predecessor when it needs to. Though the film is largely told from Dan’s perspective, he is not the main character in the plot. Abra is the focal point of the film and most of the story centers on her struggles with her powers.
The aforementioned cult feeds on the shine of children who don’t know much about their powers yet. By using their own shine, they locate the kids and torture them to extract their powers. Abra is the most powerful girl they’ve come across in a long time, so they’re relentless in their pursuit of her.
As Rose the Hat, Ferguson provides a powerhouse performance that is one of the best of her career. Her whole performance is considerably off-putting because of how genuinely creepy it is. From the confident way Ferguson walks to the deviousness in her voice, she made this character a thrill to watch whenever she was on screen.
McGregor provides an equally solid performance, though for entirely different reasons. Dan doesn’t really want to be involved in this situation, but he feels an obligation to help Abra in the same way Dick Halloran, the cook from the Overlook Hotel, helped him in “The Shining.” McGregor plays this wonderfully, resulting in one of the most reserved and quiet performances I’ve seen from him. McGregor is able to portray this character as someone who is just trying his best to do the right thing. Due to the trauma he experienced as a child, he’s never really made any real connections with anyone. When he meets Abra, he sees that she’s similar to the way he was as a kid, and he wants to save her from having the same hard life that he had. He’s down-on-his-luck, but he’s trying, and McGregor sells the audience on all of his complex emotions with ease.
Since “The Shining” is considered one of the best horror movies of all time, “Is it scary?” is a logical question to ask about “Doctor Sleep.” The answer, in my opinion, is yes, but not terribly. This movie isn’t as frightening as its predecessor, but it still provides plenty of thrills to please horror fans. The film is more focused on telling its story than trying to scare the audience, which I think was a good thing. There’s no needless jump scares or anything thrown into this film. Instead, the film builds its tension and earns its sequences of terror. Though these instances may not be frequent, when they do happen they’re fantastic.
Is “Doctor Sleep” as good as “The Shining?” No, but it didn’t need to be.
“Doctor Sleep” plays with the mythos established by the first film while still providing a story that was interesting to follow. It explored how the events of the first film affected Dan as he grew up, while also delving further into what it really means to shine. I didn’t really want to see a follow-up to “The Shining,” but after watching “Doctor Sleep,” I’m glad that I saw it, and I think fans of both “The Shining” film and book will enjoy it.