Developing a cinematic sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining which was orgiignally adapted from the literary work of Stephen King was never going to be an easy task. Doctor Sleep has to tread a fine line with director Mike Flannagan attempting to bring King’s literary sequel to life while also appeasing the fans of the Kubrick film. Given that the original film deviated greatly from King’s work and King himself was not a fan of the adaptation, any attempt at a sequel had to balance expectations wisely. Considering all of these characteristics, Flannagan’s attempt to balance comes off successful most of the time. It forges a new path for its characters, setting, and mythology while also telling a compelling story of trauma and addiction. Where it falters, however, is when it is trying too hard to appease fans and overindulge itself on fan service.
Set decades after the original film, Doctor Sleep follows an older Danny Torrance as he struggles with the ghosts of his past and alcoholism. As he begins to recover, he starts to use his “Shining” ability in unique ways in some of the film’s best scenes. However, a cult of vampire esque beings are hunting children who possess the “Shine” and as they set their eyes on a powerful young girl named Abra, Danny has to decide whether he should help out or keep his past buried.
Where this film truly “shines” is in the narrative story it tells with Danny Torrance. We have experienced and understand the terror he is wrestling with and you empathize with him in his struggles to move on and forge a new life for himself. Seeing him battle his addiction and trauma and come into his own is compelling in its own right and feels rewarding given the history we know with this character. The character growth he experiences throughout this movie feels earned and tangible, making it easy to invest in him and the central conflict that surrounds him.
The villains of this movie, the True Knot, led by an eclectic and dynamic performance by Rebecca Ferguson are some of the most fleshed out antagonists we have seen in recent years. You understand their motivations as it is simple yet complex. They aren’t evil for the sake of it, and you can see where they are coming from and the goals they are trying to attain. They commit horrific acts throughout the movie in some of the most hard to watch scenes making it difficult to empathize with them. However there is a balanced dichotomy between empathy and full on villainy making these antagonists exceptionally compelling to watch.
As the film functions on its own merits and attempts to tell a new story, there are a lot of things to love throughout its two and a half hour runtime. Seeing Danny struggle with his past and attempting to move on while also being called back into the world is fascinating to watch. His relationship with Abra and the way they talk about the “Shining” does add a few nuanced layers to this mythology, and expands upon its use in a believable yet contained way. A lot of the psychological sequences where they use this ability on each other or against “The True Knot” presents for some novel sequences that were pretty entertaining to watch.
The film is also tonally different from The Shining, making it feel like its own story without trying too hard to cash in on the original’s nostalgia (most of the time). The story takes places over decades and in many different locations which breaks away from the claustrophobic feeling of the Overlook Hotel. This allows the world to expand and give insight into other areas and meanings that help make this film stand apart. The things they do with the “Shining” do push some of the constraints we saw in the first film, but it is a novel reinvention that I appreciated.
Where I do feel the film falters a lot is when it tries to recreate, pay homage to, or directly reference The Shining. It feels out of place and often forced to cash in on the nostalgia rather than continuing to forge its own path. Scene recreations feel jarringly dissimilar due to casting different actors to play iconic roles, and it doesn’t even make sense most of the time why they are seeing certain things.
While I do consider the fact that the film forges its own path to be a strength, I never truly felt that this was a sequel to The Shining until the film forced it down my throat. It feels like a Hollywood driven sequel to revitalize the franchise and cash in on nostalgia rather than a film that remains true to the roots of what the first film brought us. It’s something that bothers me but also challenges me, and that is something I found frustrating with the film.
I did read up on what the novel’s plot was and compared it to the film. Due to the original film deviating so much from the novel, it’s hard to compare Doctor Sleep with its novel but the new things that Flannagan added to honor King’s novel are commendable and pleasing. It’s when Flannagan tries to honor Kubrick’s film that it feels weird and cringeworthy. Needless to say, I do feel this was a faithful adpataing to both works but it may feel unnatural at some points.
A sequel to the most iconic horror movie of all time was never going to live up to any expectations, but it does successfully spin something new that is worth a watch. It tells a compelling story with fleshed out characters and is great for the first 2 acts. When the film overindulges itself and drives too much into fan service is where things start to get dicey. Nonetheless, I had a fun time watching Doctor Sleep and I recommend checking it out if you were a fan of The Shining.