It’s well known that big-screen adaptations of Stephen King books are very hit or miss. When they’re a hit, they become classics, and when they miss, they miss hard. It was a risky affair to adapt the sequel to one of King’s most beloved books, and cult-status classic horror film, The Shining, and adapting Doctor Sleep came with its own set of unique challenges.
Infamously, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980’s adaptation of King’s 1977 book deviated quite a lot from the source material, much to King’s derision. But, when writing his sequel novel, Doctor Sleep, in 2013, King obviously picked up where the book left off, instead of continuing the story of Kubrick’s devising. So how would this new adaptation balance these two, conflicting storylines?
If you haven’t read or watched The Shining, I’m sorry to say you are going to be very lost, as the exposition you’re given into the story is minimal. Both book and film pick up almost immediately after the events that occurred at The Overlook Hotel. Danny Torrance and his mother, Wendy, have moved to Florida to start their lives over, though young Danny is still plagued by the ghosts of the Overlook in a very real sense. With a little help, Danny learns how to cope with the physical hauntings, but the mental trauma sticks around.
As an adult, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) isn’t exactly living an easy life. Falling into alcoholism to cope with his troubled past, his inherited rage and his gift of the shining, we meet Dan again when he’s hit rock bottom. While Dan is trying to get sober and clean up his act, we meet the antagonists of Doctor Sleep, a cult called The True Knot. Dangerous and gifted with powers of their own, The True Knot – lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) – seek out children with the shining (or as they call it, steam) to kill and absorb their essence.
We also meet Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with a powerful shine, more powerful perhaps than Dan’s ever was, who reaches out and connects with Dan via their telepathic abilities. As Dick Halloran was once a mentor to younger Danny, Dan finds himself in the same position with Abra. Ka is a wheel, after all. Though this time, the stakes are even higher, when Rose and The True Knot catch wind of Abra’s extraordinary abilities and begin to hunt her down.
As the leader of these psychic vampires, Rebecca Ferguson basically owns this movie. As the main villain, her performance is quiet, powerful and overall creepy, proving you don’t need melodrama to make for a truly scary monster.
As for the scares, this isn’t a full-blown horror film like its predecessor, though there are some truly terrifying moments and a few jump scares that got me. Instead, it’s more of a thriller, with a slow burn start and a focus on the story, not the scares. It’s driven by the characters, the demons they carry and the lessons they’ve learned, more than purely supernatural happenings.
There is a lot of material to cover from the book, and happily I can say that director Mike Flanagan covers almost all of it, trimming the fat off some scenes and characters that don’t really matter to the overarching story. This does mean the run-time is rather long, over two and a half hours, so be prepared for some restlessness when the film hits its infrequent sluggish parts.
It must have been incredibly difficult to serve two different purposes in one film, continuing the Kubrick version but bringing in the King story from the book sequel. Miraculously, Flanagan balances these two ideals just right. There’s a lot of Kubrick’s influence in the film, not just in the changes to the story, but in the aesthetics and film-making style as well. Flanagan also adds his own flair, making Doctor Sleep feel like a proper sequel, and not a rehash or rip-off.
If there is one part I can say I didn’t enjoy, it was the choice to replace the original actors from The Shining. No one returned to be digitally de-aged, instead new actors were cast in the iconic roles of Jack and Wendy Torrance and the Overlook Ghosts. Which would be fine, if Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and company weren’t so well known in those roles. Their stand-ins felt like a cast of cosplayers, very screen-accurate but just not the same. (Edit to add: more like it’s the Overlookalike Hotel, amirite?)
That being said, if that was the only thing that Flanagan got wrong, then he did everything else right. His direction has married two different ideals nearly seamlessly in a solid and true-to-the-source film that should make King fans (either book or film) incredibly happy. After Gerald’s Game, The Haunting of Hill House, and now Doctor Sleep, I trust Flanagan to direct the hell out of whatever comes his way. I know it’s going to be amazing.
Last Updated: November 11, 2019