When we think of “classic” horror movies, we generally think Rosemary’s Baby, The Exorcist and The Shining (and Jaws if you want to lump it into that genre). From that era, The Shining is our favourite, due in large part to the location, cinematography and — of course — Jack Nicholson.
It remains probably the most highly regarded adaptation of a Stephen King work to date, even if King famously wasn’t fond of Stanley Kubrick‘s vision. It fell upon director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of House Hill, Gerald’s Game) to take King’s sequel, Doctor Sleep, and meld it with Kubrick’s The Shining to create a cohesive and compelling film.
Following the events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) finds himself still haunted by the spirits. A conversation with the ghost of Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly) allows Danny to trap the ghosts in his mind, thus being free of them. However, the trauma doesn’t abate and, as an adult, Danny is an alcoholic drifter. After hitting rock bottom he boards a bus to a small northeastern town where he meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis).
Freeman becomes Danny’s AA sponsor and helps him get settled. This includes a job at a hospice facility where his ability to “shine” allows him to calm terminal patients, earning him the nickname of Dr. Sleep. Now sober, Danny also starts communicating with another person telepathically. This turns out to be Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), whose power far exceeds Danny’s, and eventually draws the attention of the “True Knot,” a collection of vampire-like individuals that feed on the “steam” of children that shine.
Abra knows of their murderous deeds, and despite Danny’s objections, she sets a trap for their leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), getting into her mind and announcing herself not only as a prize for the half-starved crew but also a dangerous adversary. Encouraged by Dick, Danny resolves to help Abra track and kill the True Knot, setting up an eventual showdown between them.
While McGregor earns top billing as the main character, it’s Ferguson and Curran that manage to steal the show. Ferguson does a great job as Rose, exuding a charm and beauty that’s at odds with her sinister motives and actions. She’s both a credible bad ass and someone we absolutely wanted to see get what she deserved. Curran is perhaps even better at making Abra someone that understands she’s in danger but also how much power she wields. She’s not looking for Danny to save her. She wants his help in taking them down.
There’s a good pacing to the film, starting with telling Danny’s story in the immediate aftermath of the Overlook and going forward from there. While King seems much happier with the sequel, there’s little doubt that Kubrick’s vision of The Shining carries more weight here. Flanagan does a clever job of weaving in some of the differences, though, such as having Halloran appear as a spirit (he survives in the book version). The relatively slow build also allows time to invest in the new characters.
There’s a good mix of action and suspense here that we really enjoyed, as opposed to the overwhelmingly atmospheric horror of the first film. Doctor Sleep isn’t as scary as The Shining, but it wasn’t meant to be as Abra isn’t terrorized the way Danny was. Their encounters with the True Knot were our favourite moments in a movie we largely enjoyed from start to finish.
While we certainly enjoyed the callbacks to The Shining, we never quite warmed up to Henry Thomas as Jack Torrance. Flanagan mentions it was a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation in the extras as to whether to have someone do an impression or their own take on the original, but it worked better with Wendy and Danny. Whether that’s simply due to Nicholson being such a larger-than-life presence is unclear, but when we were watching the movie, Thomas’ portrayal felt off.
THE BONUS FEATURES
There are only three extras on offer, one that discusses the books, one that’s a general making-of featurette and one that zeroes in on remaking the Overlook Hotel. They cover around 30 minutes combined, which isn’t a ton of content, but being fans of King and the Kubrick film we found it to be fairly compelling. An alternate Director’s Cut is also included, which adds nearly half an hour onto the run time to push it up to three hours.
Doctor Sleep hit all the right notes with us, blending an interesting, well-paced story with strong performances and an ample dose of nostalgia. If you like The Shining, this is a no-brainer.