Few horror films are as iconic and overly analyzed as Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic “The Shining.” Adapted from the 1977 Stephen King novel of the same name, the film, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelly Duvall and Danny Lloyd as Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrance, respectively, was notoriously controversial upon release.
Stephen King criticized the deviation from the source material. The treatment of Shelly Duval behind the scenes put a bad taste in many audience members' mouths, and many felt as though the film was too ambiguous and confusing.
In the years since its release, however, the overall impression of the film has shifted, and the admiration of the filmmaking involved, as well as the terrific performances from Duval and Nicholson, have raised the film to classic status.
Now, 39 years after the original film was released, modern horror auteur Mike Flanagan, hot off of the success of his highly praised adaptation of “The Haunting of Hill House,” brings “Doctor Sleep,” adapted from Stephen King’s sequel of the same name, to the big screen. He explains some of the ambiguity of the original and continue the story of Danny Torrance after the events at the Overlook Hotel.
“Doctor Sleep” picks up decades after the original film, as Ewan McGregor’s Danny Torrance, now older, homeless and alcoholic, traverses across the East Coast in search of the next bottle to drown himself in. He finds himself in a small town in New Hampshire, where he meets Billy Freeman, portrayed by a friendly and warm Cliff Curtis, who helps him to get off of the bottle and back onto his feet.
The events and spirits of the Overlook return soon enough. Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat traverses the country looking for people with special connections to the supernatural, or “Shinings,” as Danny refers to them, with the intention of harvesting and feeding upon their souls. Danny soon meets young Abra Stone, in Kyliegh Curran’s acting debut, a young girl with a stronger Shining than anyone has ever seen.
Danny must conquer his demons once more in order to protect Abra from going down the same route he went down oh-so long ago.
“Doctor Sleep” works best when it’s not trying to remind you that it is a sequel to “The Shining.” The entire cast is terrific, with McGregor and Curran delivering vulnerable and emotional performances. Ferguson in particular stands out as the cold, calculated and terrifying Rose the Hat, and the character, due to the terrific performance and excellent writing, instantly inscribed its name into the walls of horror fame.
Mike Flanagan cements himself as the most consistent and effective horror director of the new era with "Doctor Sleep." Having written, edited and directed the project himself, Flanagan crafts a world with a spine-tingling sense of dread and anxiety and a story that is equal parts engaging, entertaining, thought-provoking and horrifying.
The supernatural elements of the original novel are explored and explained in a much more transparent way, so, while the sequel lacks some of the ambiguity and subtlety of the original, the way in which the story is written, directed and acted is so incredibly engaging that that lack of subtlety is made up for by tenfold.
The only drawback found within “Doctor Sleep” is the fact that it tries way too hard to remind you that it is a sequel to “The Shining.” There is a turning point in the third act that, while appealing to the horror film geek within me, felt incredibly forced. Several shots and scenes are recreated frame for frame, and, despite the best efforts to make it feel as though it was building upon the original, felt forced and awkward.
This drawback wouldn’t be as big of a deal if it weren’t for the fact that the portions of the film trying to remind you of the connections to the original end up taking over the entire film by the end of it. The story presented is so incredibly engaging and well-done, and forgoing that to recreate scenes from “The Shining” felt imposed.
“Doctor Sleep” is an incredibly tense, entertaining, well-written, well-acted and well-directed horror story. Despite the constant reminders of the connection to the original film, this sequel works off of the powerhouse performances from McGregor and Ferguson, the beautifully haunting camera work and editing and the terrifically terrifying story alone.
It’s hard to say whether or not Stanley Kubrick would’ve been pleased, but the events at the Overlook Hotel have been given a sequel worthy of the original name.