Updated: Jul 12, 2021
In 1980, director Stanley Kubrick made The Shining, an adaptation of Stephen King’s 1977 novel that was long, dense with meaning, visually striking and strayed from the source material. It was divisive at the time, but is now generally considered to be a classic of the genre. 39 years later, we finally get the sequel, Doctor Sleep (in fairness, King only wrote this book six years ago). It uses some of Kubrick’s imagery, yet feels a little more like a King adaptation. Around 60-40. That is not a criticism. It contains the positives and negatives of both. Rich character details and strong world building mixed with vivid visuals and effectively built tension. It also has dialogue not as clever as intended and is slower and longer than the narrative really needed to be (it is 146 minutes without the end credits). Taking the good with the bad, this is a solid continuation of this story. I highly doubt it will gain the reputation of its predecessor, though fans of King, Kubrick and horror will probably find a decent amount to enjoy here.
The sequel follows Danny Torrance, the son of the Jack Nicholson character in the original. He was five then, now he is grown up and played by a haunted Ewan McGregor. All his life, he has been running from his gift (which he calls “The Shining”). After connecting with a 13 year-old girl with the same abilities, they learn of a powerful group of beings who hunt and kill people like them, taking their shine to become even stronger. Danny must stop hiding to protect others from this evil.
Doctor Sleep takes its time, establishing histories, personalities and motivations. Maybe a little too much. I am not sure we really needed to get to know the villainous Rose the Hat and her gang as well as we do. Rebecca Ferguson completely throws herself into the role, creating a memorably entertaining antagonist, but there is not much to the character. The best visuals in the movie involve her, yet she is not very deep. Eventually, I wanted it to get on with things. I felt the same way about Danny’s relationship with the kind man who helps him get sober (he drinks to dull his powers). Cliff Curtis brings a natural likability and has a couple of nice moments with McGregor. However, he is basically just a plot device so, though I enjoyed him, less would have been more.
Now for the good stuff. Director/writer/editor Mike Flanagan maintains a sense of danger throughout the entire movie. Due to the nature of their enemies, our heroes are never safe. He also uses locations well, whether it is Danny’s apartment, the hospice center where he works, Rose’s trailer or the Overlook Hotel, which haunts Danny’s mind all these years later. Still, he does not allow the visuals to get in the way of the story. This is not about spectacle, it is about the people affected by a “gift” they did not ask for and how they choose to apply it. It is an impressive production for the way Flanagan never simplifies or rushes anything, letting it conclude on its own terms.
I liked Doctor Sleep, even if I wish it had been trimmed of some subplots and a few repetitive dialogue scenes. It is a good looking movie with a compelling story and strong performances from Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson. I am not a huge fan of Kubrick’s Shining, but I admire its artistry and Flanagan duplicates enough of it. He juggles faithfulness to the source material with faithfulness to a movie that was not faithful and creates something pretty good. While it is not as good a King adaptation as It, it will do.
3½ out of 5
Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance
Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone
Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat
Cliff Curtis as Billy Freeman
Zahn McClarnon as Crow Daddy
Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi
Carl Lumbly as Dick Hallorann
Screenplay and Directed by Mike Flanagan