Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s bestselling novel The Shining holds a special place in my horror-loving heart, as it is one of THOSE movies; those that burn a place in the psyche when they first play over your peepers. Having said that, I do first acknowledge that, despite some people insistence, The Shining is NOT a perfect flick…it most certainly has its flaws. But one area that is not flawed is the creepy-ass muthafuckin tone that Kubrick cemented into the fabric of the film! The sinister atmosphere and mounting dread, coupled with an excellent, instant classic of a music score, scared the living piss out of me when I was but a wee lad, and that stuck with me…creeping me out to this day! I’ve also read the book…and loved it. I genuinely think it’s one of King’s best. So I’m well acquainted with The Shining and it’s sizable impact on pop culture.
Then I heard that King was bringing The Shining back in the form of a sequel novel, set 30’s after the tragic events that befell the Torrance Family at the Overlook Hotel. Right off the bat, I was intrigued by this. But then I heard some shit about vampires…and something didn’t add up for me. For whatever reason, I never saw a larger supernatural world outside of the world of The Shining. I know that’s monumentally short-sighted…why couldn’t there be other supernatural forces at work?!…but I just hadn’t considered it. But since it was King, I have faith. In all honesty, there is a hard cover copy of Doctor Sleep under our roof…I just haven’t tackled it yet (have 4 books on the go as is!), but I do intend to…especially now.
It seems like Stephen King is experiencing a second wind in his incredibly impressive career…what with damn near everything with his name attached being in some form of development or release as a film and / or series at the moment. Inevitably, Hollywood found its way to Doctor Sleep.
I saw it.
Doctor Sleep reintroduces us to ‘Danny Torrance’ (Ewan McGregor), now going by ‘Dan’, as he navigates his way through a seedy nightmarish haze of alcoholism, while he tries to cope with his lingering trauma stemming from the events of 1980, at the Overlook Hotel…while also suppressing his ‘shine’. At the same time, we meet a mysterious and powerful woman named ‘Rose The Hat’ (Rebecca Ferguson), the ruthless leader of a travelling caravan of vampires, of a sort, who seek to swallow the soul or energy of their victims, who’s menu currently consists of children with the ability to ‘shine’. One potential victim of this group, who go by the name ‘The True Knot’, is a young girl named ‘Abra’ (Kyliegh Curran), who’s a powerful psychic who’s beginning to harness her abilities. Through doing so, she is able to seek out ‘Dan’, who comes to her aid and also confronts his own past demons along the way.
This was a solid sequel, that effectively honored both pieces of source material, movie and novel. I was actually glad that I had not yet read the book, as it allowed the movie to stand on it’s own two feet and, I will admit, it had me entertained for the whole 2 hr 30 min run-time. I do not feel that it embarrassed the sources of adaptation in any way. Director Mike Flanagan, who is making quite a name for himself in the horror genre, delivered the goods and gave me some really cool shit. Now, just like the original, it’s not perfect, but Flanagan and Co. put in the hours and it really feels like they tried to honor what both King and Kubrick had originally done before them.
First off, the cast is good and feel committed to the roles, especially Rebecca Ferguson, who I first noticed in the last two Mission: Impossible flicks. I really liked how she portrayed ‘Rose The Hat’. She gave ‘Rose’ a savage ruthlessness and determination, coupled with that interesting sensuality Ferguson effortlessly harnesses. There was one scene in which she astral projects that had me riveted, right up to the tension-releasing laugh-out-loud end-of-scene. There was another where she oversaw the swarming and ritualistic murder of a kid (yea, there’s some harsh shit in this one), where she was legitimately scary. But that’s not to take away from Ewan McGregor, who was solid as ‘Dan’. Though he wasn’t AS engaging as I feel he could’ve been, he did get to show a range as the character progressed through the narrative. There’s also some not-embarrassing facsimiles for the characters played by Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers, in The Shining. I have not bothered to look those little-known actors up (though was pleasantly surprised to see ‘Elliot’ himself, Henry Thomas, turn up)…but they were pretty darn good. Something else that was pretty darn good was the Score, composed by The Newton Brothers (never heard of them). It was spot-on, often using key pieces of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s original and iconic, spooky-as-fuck score, really tying this one in as a direct sequel to Kubrick’s movie, as opposed to connecting closer to the book, despite the fact the King famously disowned Kubrick’s flick. I was surprised at how well the music worked for the story…though it does make sense, as the original’s score is a HUGE part of what makes that movie so fucking unsettling. I also appreciated the hard edge Doctor Sleep had, being not afraid to get under the audiences skin a little. Mike Flanagan had proven he has the chops with his previous work, the last being Netflix’s surprisingly decent The Haunting of Hill House, and I think he’s toe to toe with James Wan (Saw), as reliably consistent genre directors go, who’s not afraid to push the odd boundary or two.
There’s a ton more I’d love to delve into, but I don’t want to bore the shit outta ya, Dear Reader. So…
…on to some Negatives!
There isn’t much for me to gripe about, as I had a legitimately good time watching this flick. That being said, I do feel that Doctor Sleep, despite being 2 hrs, 30 min long, felt like there was some connective tissue missing some where along the way. Some sequences felt rushed or choppy, and the pacing suffered a bit, so I have to wonder if there may be a Director’s Cut in the future, with the flow evened out. I would welcome spending some more time with this story and these characters. Back on the down-note, I can see how some people could look at Doctor Sleep as yet another entry into the soon-to-be-tiresome wave of 80’s nostalgia that Hollywood is traipsing through right now, using all the ties to The Shining to prop itself up, and they may not necessarily be totally wrong…but I say fuck that shit! Also, there was a sequence in the 3rd Act that takes ‘Dan’ back to the Overlook Hotel…and everything is exactly as it was left on the night that he and his mom were nearly murdered. I mean EXACTLY…as in the cops never showed, the hotel kept on operating etc. Which I had to scoff at a little…but then scary shit ensued and all was forgiven.
All in all, I really enjoyed Doctor Sleep, and look forward to seeing it again. It’s a worthy sequel to a classic horror movie that has a good cast, some inventive cinematography, a great music score, some genuinely tense sequences and an oddly welcome mean-streak. It capably progresses the story of The Shining (though I admit that we didn’t really need it) and expands upon the larger world that existed outside the confines of the first movie, and it does so in an interesting, yet strangely logical way, in my opinion. First and foremost, I can easily recommend this sequel to fans of the original, as this was clearly made with YOU in mind. I also think that casual horror movie fans will also dig Doctor Sleep and I do think there is something to seeing this one on The Big Screen. So, especially since it doesn’t seem to be burning down the Box Office at the moment (which is a shame), I definitely encourage you to check Doctor Sleep out, if for no other reason to support a sequel that feels like they actually tried.