Doctor Sleep is a bit underwhelming but makes up for it by being an ode to Kubrick’s The Shining while honoring King’s original.
Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, both based on the novels written by Stephen King. But the admirable and special part is that this new film is true to the original The Shining and Doctor Sleep by Stephen King but is also an ode with lots of references to the story told by Stanley Kubrick.
It’s a supernatural tale that continues with Dan Torrance years after the terrors in The Overlook hotel. But it introduces a new character as well, Abra, whose shining shines even brighter. Although the story is somewhat underwhelming, the references are enthralling, making it a watch worth your while.
Dan Torrance is all grown up, but sadly followed in his father’s footsteps and struggles with alcoholism. That all changes when a girl named Abra Stone seeks him out, telepathically and asks for help to stop an evil woman named Rose the Hat who crosses America in Winnebago’s as The True Knot, devouring children like soul eating vampires.
Why you should watch it
Doctor Sleep combines the original story written by Stephen King with the stunning sinister visuals from Stanley Kubrick’s film The Shining (1980). With haunting reimagined scenes of the 1980 film, it brings that claustrophobic tense feeling alive. The reconstructed scenes are an ode to that film, but the story itself also stays true to the original stories of both The Shining and Doctor Sleep.
The scene when Dick Hallorann appears to little Danny is a perfect example of this well-thought mix. While in the books Dick survived the Overlook drama, Kubrick let him die. In the film Doctor Sleep, he shows up to teach Danny an important lesson about the haunting ghosts, but it stays unclear if he’s alive or in fact a ghost himself. It is cleverly done, and this way the film doesn’t have to choose between the praised book and the praised but different film.
But this comes at a price as well, for this film will be best appreciated by fans of both the books and the film by Kubrick. There are a lot of references to that film, and although the scenes are logically placed in the story, still some references might not fully be understood by people who didn’t see the Kubrick film and who therefore don’t know how to place a particular scene in the storyline and the whole intent might be lost.
In fact, some references and re-enacted scenes reflect the development of Dan in relation to him and his father Jack. This can only be fully grasped when you understand the reference and what it means in both The Shining by Kubrick and in this film. These odes and references are an essential part in Dan’s characterization.
The film has a classic slow but steady buildup, introducing the characters, but despite the long duration, the characters could have been more developed or fleshed out. This could have been accomplished in a better and more compelling way if instead of a feature film it was filmed as a mini-series. That way the story could have realized its full potential, carving out the drama and the horror.
There are some gruesome moments, the more so because it involves children but could have been more pressing and Rose and her entourage are more evil than powerful. There is some focus on Dan’s alcoholism, there’s even a shootout in the woods, but the bond between Dan and Abra could have stood out more, making it more gripping.
Dan Torrance unavoidably followed in his father’s footsteps, and due to the events in The Overlook turned to the bottle. Abra is a badass girl with the shining as her superpowers, almost making her invincible. She is a great character, but her strength and intelligence and cunningness also effect the tension of the film. There is never a moment that she is in real danger, she’s too powerful and smart and so is Dan.
As for Rose the Hat, she might be the villain, but isn’t half as scary as Abra herself can be. Rose is malicious but her power and cunningness and her people are never really dangerous or threatening to Abra. The film hasn’t a real pressing moment that truly scares or thrills.
Still it is a solid film and it has some great moments, and those who enjoy a classical structure, this is a very accessible horror that will speak to a big audience. But those who seek more depth, or even more scares, with a relentless feeling of terror, this movie doesn’t meet that level of horror.
My favorite part
The surreal part when Abra or Dan or Rose fly above the country, diving into each others minds is wonderfully shot and an original visual that really adds to the story of the book.
The references to The Shining are excellent and a trip down memory lane for the fans. Not only the scenes are re-enacted but also the original music themes pop up, so that dreadful atmosphere comes rushing back. It really connects the classic film with this new story and Dan’s frightful winter and his chance to make amends. Those scenes are a delight to watch as is Abra whose charms win you over in a heartbeat.
The whole story, Dan’s character and the ultimate fight only really starts when they arrive at the old Overlook. That’s when the movie gets into gear, gets scary and imaginative, while the references are excellent and The Overlook comes to life again.
Scare factor: ★★★☆☆
Surreal factor: ★★★☆☆
Gruesome factor: ★★★☆☆
Cast and crew
Doctor Sleep is based on the novel of the same name written by Stephen King. It is directed and written by Mike Flanagan. It stars Ewan McGregor (Dan), Rebecca Ferguson (Rose), Kyliegh Curran (Abra), Cliff Curtis (Billy), Carl Lumbly (Dick Hallorann), Zahn McClarnon (Crow Daddy), Emily Alyn Lind (Snakebite Andi), Alex Essoe (Wendy Torrance), Jocelin Donahue (Lucy Stone) and Zackery Momoh (David Stone).
Duration: 152 minutes. Music: The Newton Brothers. Cinematography: Michael Fimognari. Edited by: Mike Flanagan. Produced by: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy. Production companies: Warner Bros. Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment. Distributed by: Warner Bros.