Here’s our review of ‘Doctor Sleep’, which follows up ‘The Shining’ more than 30 years after the original film scared the hell out of everybody…
By Damon Martin — Editor/Lead Writer
The term “horror classic” doesn’t get tossed around all that much.
In fact there are probably only a handful of truly great horror films that essentially every critic on Earth can agree is must see viewing. Now that’s not to say there aren’t far more classic horror films out there — but it’s a tougher sell for these kinds of films to transcend the niche genre and breakout into mainstream adoration.
Films like “The Exorcist” and “Rosemary’s Baby” easily fall into the category of “horror classic” as does the iconic 1980 thriller “The Shining,” directed by Stanley Kubrick.
Starring Jack Nicholson in the leading role, Kubrick adapted the original book from Stephen King but gave it his own unique twist, which turned the film into an all-time great horror experience and one that still terrifies audiences to this day. It’s also well known fact that King hates “The Shining” adaptation because of the numerous changes that Kubrick made when bringing the book to life on the big screen.
If it’s difficult to make a truly great horror classic by mainstream standards then it’s nearly impossible to create a sequel that holds a candle to the original.
Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) decided to take on that challenge by adapting King’s book “Doctor Sleep,” which is a direct sequel to his novel “The Shining.” Because King hated the original “Shining” movie it took some convincing to hand over the rights to his book but he had already trusted Flanagan with some of his other work and ultimately gave his blessing to attempt the sequel in film form.
The result is “Doctor Sleep,” which opens in theaters nationwide on Friday.
Flanagan’s film definitely serves as a follow up to “The Shining” while still strangely feeling like its own standalone feature because sadly he wasn’t going to get Jack Nicholson to reprise his role as Jack Torrance nearly four decades after he originated the part. So it made Flanagan’s job that much tougher to sequelize the story written by King but then perfected by Kubrick.
The final product strangely feels like it would have been better served as a 10-part miniseries yet still manages to drag at certain points over the 2 hour and 31 minute run time. That said, Flanagan pulls off a bit of a magic trick by creating his own take on “The Shining” and then following that up with his adaptation of “Doctor Sleep.”
He doesn’t feel completely beholden to the original books — and truth be told King makes some odd choices during many of his greatest novels — so Flanagan makes this story his own while still paying homage to Kubrick’s vision.
Overall “Doctor Sleep” will never end up in the same sentence as “The Shining” when it comes to the term “horror classic” but no one should have expected that in the first place.
With that said, let’s get to our full review of “Doctor Sleep”…
“Doctor Sleep” opens following the conclusion of “The Shining” after Danny Torrance and his mother Wendy escape the clutches of his evil father Jack, who was consumed by the ghosts and spirits that inhabited the Overlook Hotel. In the days, weeks and months following that horrific experience, Danny continues to be haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook after they come searching for the boy who could shine in order to feed off of his abilities.
Years go by and Danny’s torment continues, drowned only by constantly drinking himself into a stupor to forget about the past. It’s only after a visit from an old friend that Danny is finally able to compartmentalize his trauma and begin to move forward with his life.
He relocates to a small town in New Hampshire where he’s befriended by a local man named Billy, who has a feeling that Dan Torrance is a good person just searching for a second chance. Eight years go by as Dan finally cleans up his life after giving up alcohol and discovering that his “shining” can be put to good use as he helps ease elderly patients into their final slumber by taking away their fear and anxiety, which earns him the moniker of Doctor Sleep.
But Danny’s peaceful tranquility is soon disturbed when he connects with a young girl named Abra Stone, who also possesses the ability to shine, except her abilities far exceed his own. To make matters worse, Abra has attracted the attention of a vampiric tribe known as the True Knot, led by the charismatic Rose the Hat, and they are a group that survives solely by feasting on the “steam” of the people who shine.
When the True Knot discovers that Abra might be the most powerful person to ever shine, they descend upon her hometown in an attempt to find her and Dan Torrance might be the only one capable of saving her.
ACTING, DIRECTING AND SCRIPT
Let’s start off with Mike Flanagan, who has quickly become a true visionary for modern horror after his adaptations of “Gerald’s Game” and “The Haunting of Hill House”. He’s figured out a way to take original works and then mold them with his own terrifying visions.
It’s no different with “Doctor Sleep,” except this time around Flanagan has a taller order than ever before because “The Shining” is held in such high regard. Where Flanagan succeeds is that he really does try to make his own film with “Doctor Sleep” rather than constantly trying to compare his version of the story to either King or Kubrick.
While he succeeds in many ways, Flanagan still can’t capture the claustrophobic terror that defined Kubrick’s “The Shining” and it feels like sometimes he’s trying too hard to appease King, who is understandably one of his idols.
The script also leans heavily on the past when carrying on the story into “Doctor Sleep” but the best parts of the movie might be when Flanagan turns his attention to the True Knot because that’s a wholly original idea only conceived in King’s book, which then allows him to make it his own.
Rebecca Ferguson, who plays Rose the Hat, is equal parts charming, seductive and yet scary as hell. Imagine Stevie Nicks as a character out of a Stephen King novel and that’s what Ferguson pulls off with her portrayal of Rose the Hat in this movie.
Kyleigh Curran is definitely the breakout newcomer as she portrays Abra Stone — the young girl with the ‘shining’, who goes up against the True Knot while befriending Danny Torrance.
As for Ewan McGregor, he does an admirable job playing Danny years after the events of “The Shining” but at the same time it’s still a largely forgettable performance. McGregor is the leading man in this movie but often times it feels like he should have just taken a backseat to the performances from Ferguson and Curran.
WHAT’S WRONG WITH THE MOVIE?
As previously stated, Flanagan had a tough job with “Doctor Sleep” because he not only had to try and follow “The Shining” but he had to appease Stephen King to ensure he didn’t receive the same kind of criticism from the horror legend that he unloaded on Kubrick all those years ago.
In many ways, Flanagan tries to take the best elements of the original film from 1980 and then combines them with parts from King’s follow up novel and that’s what he ultimately serves up with “Doctor Sleep”.
While it’s a solid effort, Flanagan still gets lost in the details at some points in this movie because it’s tough to tell who he was trying to please more with his sequel instead of just making his own film. Flanagan knows how to tell an incredible story — and there are definitely great moments like that during this film — he just takes a huge detour when trying to get there.
Overall “Doctor Sleep” is worth your time because the good moments far outweigh the bad even if the film never quite shines on its own.
“Doctor Sleep” gets 3 out of 5 on the Skolnick Scale: