Doctor Sleep is a sequel wise enough to directly replicate The Shining. The Kubrick classic is a seemingly impossible cinematic feat to top. Director Mike Flanagan makes the right call to sidestep most of the nostalgia for something refreshing. Based on the sequel novel by Stephen King, the film ends up playing more like a sequel with something interesting to say after all this time.
After the horrific events of The Shining, the shining user Danny has tried to cope with his problems. Namely, his psychic abilities and his nightmarish visions of ghosts. Over the many decades, he has found ways to conceal the spirits and hide his powers. Now played by Ewan McGregor, Danny has led a troubled life, buried in bottles. Made aware by the lingering spirit of the hotel manager Dick, this lifestyle can’t last. Danny needs to clean himself up and come to terms with himself.
While he takes off for a small town to get sober and reform, there’s another Shining user with growing powers. Abra has spent her childhood hiding that power for fear of being different. But when she reaches her teen years, she can’t stay silent. Not when she can literally hear the screams of children being targeted by the Shining harvester of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Rose and her band of villains have been living on Shining power for decades, killing children and extracting their energy. This terror will continue unless Danny and Abra do something.
Scary New Powers
While expanding on the powers of what one can do with the Shining, this film never seems to lose sight of its themes. This could’ve easily spiraled into an X-Men action picture and is presented several times to do so. While there are certainly some showdowns to be had, there’s far more than this psychic horror action. As Danny takes a job at a hospice, he learns to find comfort in death rather than fear it. This counters with Rose’s fear of mortality, using the Shining essence to keep her alive for far longer. Abra is clearly meant to represent a fear of not being true to yourself when so much terror is happening. Good people can’t stay quiet.
The powers are still neat in how they come out cleverly. Danny and Abra communicate in a clever way of using a chalkboard as a psychic penpal forum, speaking with each other from great distances. Abra can tap into the visions of the traveling band of Shining eaters by entering their minds. Rose has the ability to find secrets by delving into Abra’s mind, portrayed as a library with a very brutal trap. The film never slows down to fully explain these powers and thank goodness it doesn’t. I don’t need to know the specifics of these Jedi-style power to grasp the grander emphasis of such a tale.
So much of Doctor Sleep works well enough on its own that it’s a bit troubling the film falls back on a lot of the Kubrick style. Not only do we get several flashbacks from the previous film but we must also return to the spooky hotel once more. That familiar score starts up, the lights switch on, and those scary ghosts return to haunt Danny once more. These aspects are a bit underwhelming, where Rose stumbles by the elevators of blood and merely raises an eyebrow.
What makes this part of the movie shine a little brighter, however, is the presentation. Jumping back in time quite a bit, the film takes the high road of hiring new actors to play old roles. This is seen with stand-ins for Scatman Crothers and Shelley Duvall, now played by Carl Lumbly and Alex Essoe with remarkable accuracy. But the standout of this picture is the replacement for Jack. There’s a scene where we can hear Jack. We know he is there. We know he is going to be on screen soon. And then, surprise, it’s not Jack Nicholson but Henry Thomas doing a fantastically nuanced impersonation. No CGI recreations here.
Doctor Sleep takes on the task of a sequel to the iconic The Shining and shines rather bright. It has its own style of horror, featuring one of the most uncomfortably vicious sequences in any horror picture this year. There’s an absorbing and haunting atmosphere that allows the themes to breathe its own air into such a picture, rather than be a Stanley Kubrick redux. Even though the film is based on the novel by Stephen King from 2013, this film powerfully resonates today with meaningful messages within a contemplative and brilliant horror. A worthy sequel indeed.
What did you think of Doctor Sleep? Does it rank higher than King’s previous adaptation this fall? Let us know in the comments below.