Though Stephen King himself loathes it, The Shining is a benchmark of the horror genre. In fact, the horror masterpiece’s influence has extended beyond the genre and become a part of the cultural lexicon. After King directed his own remake, he moved on to penning a direct follow-up – his 2013 novel, Doctor Sleep. Producing a sequel to a classic directed by a master like Stanley Kubrick would be a daunting task. But King’s literary sequel paved the way for what was probably inevitable. To ensure the sequel met expectations, Warner Bros tasked Mike Flanagan with adapting the novel to the big screen. His previous movie, which include another King novel, Gerald’s Game, give him the right credentials. But can Flanagan ‘shine’ and give audiences a satisfying sequel to one of the greatest horror movies of all time?
Following the horrific events at The Overlook Hotel, Dan Torrance and his mother escape to Florida. Though he’s learned to ‘lock away’ The Overlook’s ghosts in psychic ‘boxes’, Dan succumbs to the same ills that plagued his father. Now an adult and struggling alcoholic, Dan finds solace caring for the elderly in small-town hospice. But when Dan inadvertently connects with a young girl – Abra Stone – who shares his gift, otherworldly events drag him out of hiding. A nomadic tribe of ‘psychic vampires’ who prey on the energy from gifted children have targeted Abra. Now only Dan can save Abra from The True Knot.
Doctor Sleep Finds Its Own Scares
To date, Mike Flanagan (Hush, The Haunting of Hill House) has proven himself to be an innovate horror filmmaker. All of this ingenuity is on display in Doctor Sleep. Like Kubrick, Flanagan opts for atmospheric scares over cheap jolts. Several nightmarish visions are put on the screen. But it’s Room 237’s ghostly patron that serves up some of the more unnerving images. There’s some clever camera-twisting that drops characters (and you) into different scenes. While most of The True Knot are regulated to the background, Flanagan makes optimal use of his villains. Moreover, Flanagan finds new ways to make The Overlook Hotel as foreboding as it was in The Shining.
Flanagan Finds Right Balance Between Competing Visions
Early criticisms of Doctor Sleep have largely focused on its length and tightwire balancing of reverence for The Shining and staking out its own vision. Few movies can justify a run-time of two hours or more. Consider Doctor Sleep one of the handful of movies that earns its length. Like his other words, King’s Doctor Sleep is a sprawling novel. But to his credit, Flanagan displays a excellent grasp of the material. No scene feels superfluous; it’s a well-paced movie that never drags. While several elements of King’s novel are changed Doctor Sleep respects its source material, keeping its story and themes intact.
Instead, Doctor Sleep organically blends The Overlook Hotel into a new story with its own sense of urgency.
Of course, Flanagan does have to balance Kubrick’s movie with King’s novel that obviously adheres to his original vision. Contrary to some critiques, Flanagan finds the balance between these competing visions while making Doctor Sleep its own movie. Promotional materials for the movie emphasized its connection to The Shining. But Flanagan doesn’t rely on lazy references to the 1980 classic. Instead, Doctor Sleep organically blends The Overlook Hotel into a new story with its own sense of urgency. In fact, Doctor Sleep’s conclusion, altered from the novel, honours King’s original vision. It’s an emotionally satisfying coda for Dan and Jack Torrance.
Doctor Sleep Has a Hell of a Villain in Rebecca Ferguson’s ‘Rose the Hat’
Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining was so big it almost overwhelmed the movie. No one in Doctor Sleep steamrolls the material in the same manner. But the casting and performances are excellent across the board. Arguably, Ewan McGregor is the diametric opposite of Nicholson. His performances are typically subtle, playing off of an ‘every-man’ appeal. As an adult Dan Torrance, McGregor brings those similar sensibilities to the role. It’s a quiet but affecting performance. Relative newcomer Kyliegh Curran gives an eye-opening performance as ‘Abra Stone’. For a young performer, Curran makes her character compelling and complex – equal parts strong and vulnerable.
You can put her up there with Kathy Bates’ ‘Annie Wilkes’ because Ferguson’s ‘Rose the Hat’ is a chilling villain.
If there’s a standout in Doctor Sleep, it’s Rebecca Ferguson. You can put her up there with Kathy Bates’ ‘Annie Wilkes’ because Ferguson’s ‘Rose the Hat’ is a chilling villain. It’s a charismatic performance that mesmerizes as though Ferguson has a bit of ‘shine’ herself. When ‘Rose the Hat’ is in a scene, she owns the screen. No jump scare could substitute for what Ferguson does with the character. Though it’s a less flashy role, Zahn McClamon’s ‘Crow Daddy’ is no less charismatic and dangerous. Emily Alyn Lind (Lights Out, The Babysitter) also makes the most of her screen-time as ‘Snakebite Andi’.
Doctor Sleep a Worthy Follow-up to The Shining
Doctor Sleep is another illustration of Rotten Tomatoes’ limitations. The sequel’s current ‘Tomatometer‘ doesn’t do it justice. Yes, it’s unlikely that Doctor Sleep will occupy the same cultural space as The Shining. Yet that’s an unfair standard by which to judge Flanagan’s movie. In every way, Doctor Sleep is a genuinely engaging, frightening movie that carves out its own niche in horror. This is a worthy follow-up that delivers an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the Torrance Family’s story.