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Doctor Sleep is both an adaptation of the Stephen King novel of the same name, and a sequel to the highly-regarded Stanley Kubrick adaptation of The Shining. Directed by Mike Flanagan, who’s best known for his work on recent horror hits like Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House, the film tries to bridge the gap between King’s book and Kubrick’s less-than-faithful original film. Historically, Stephen King has voiced his disdain for Kubrick’s take on The Shining, but has been supportive of Flanagan’s recent adaptations and original works. With a noteworthy cast and a twisting and winding narrative, does Doctor Sleep manage to appease both fans of the original novel and Kubrick’s The Shining? Better yet, is it an effective thriller for complete newcomers as well? In short, yes.
The Doc is In
Although Doctor Sleep has its fair share of flashbacks, the film mostly takes place in the early 2010s, following Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he deals with the hard reality of adulthood. Plagued with horrifying memories of his time at the Overlook Hotel, Danny has turned to alcoholism and violence as a way to cope.
Attempting to “run away from himself”, Danny hops on a bus and travels to a small town in New Hampshire. There, he begins to feel a psychic connection with a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). Elsewhere, a nomadic group with nefarious intent known as the True Knot continue their never-ending hunt for children with special powers.
After the traumatizing events of The Shining, Danny is less-than-eager to utilize his supernatural gifts. Referred to as having “the shine”, Danny can telepathically connect with others, as well as peer into the world of the dead. For people with the shine, the world can even more terrifying than it already is, as some memories (and ghosts) just won’t leave well enough alone. However, as Abra finds herself at odds with the True Knot, Danny is forced into action as the only person who can protect her.
A Rose By Any Other Name
Although Doctor Sleep is a sequel to one of the most popular horror films of all time, I wouldn’t call it a horror film. With a runtime of 2 hours and 30 minutes, Doctor Sleep is almost entirely a slow-burn suspense film. There’s plenty of supernatural elements, as well as a decent helping of creepiness (and the occasional gross-out moment), but Doctor Sleep seems far more interested in telling a somewhat grounded character story than a simple horror tale. This is best exemplified by the main antagonist and leader of the True Knot, a woman simply known as Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).
Rose the Hat (and the rest of the True Knot) work very well as an antagonistic force, as there’s a decent level of mystery to their motivations. Besides their proclivity for snatching up young children who show signs of supernatural gifts, the film smartly withholds the true horror of the group until partway through the film.
Rebecca Ferguson delivers a fantastic performance as Rose the Hat, resulting in a character that feels like a severely misguided mother. She only wants the best for her family, no matter what the cost. Luckily, Rose the Hat eventually finds her match in Abra, as the girl exhibits powers unlike anything she’s ever seen.
Doctor Sleep does an excellent job tying itself into Stanley Kubrick’s horror classic, The Shining. There are plenty of story beats that call back to characters from The Shining, with even a few notable scenes being re-shot from the ground up. In terms of narrative, Doctor Sleep never finds itself standing in The Shining‘s shadow, using its own story as the focal point rather than relying on nostalgia from Kubrick’s work.
That said, the stuff that Doctor Sleep pulls from The Shining works to varying degrees. The choice of sound design and music is excellent, effortlessly evoking Kubrick’s iconic film. Ewan McGregor also gives a convincing performance as Danny Torrance, making it that much easier to accept the callbacks to The Shining. There are a handful of scenes that recreate iconic shots and sequences from The Shining, and while most of them work, there are a handful of shots that felt off. This is most likely due to some casting choices, as none of the original cast of The Shining reprise their roles in the flashback scenes.
Instead of relying on CGI effects to recreate the original cast, a few roles have been completely recast. While most of it works, I couldn’t help but be pulled out of the experience when these scenes appeared on screen. It’s not that the recasting feels tacky or bad, it simply produces an awkward juxtaposition. When some of the settings and shots have been painstakingly recreated, it’s hard not to notice the changes.
Should You Watch Doctor Sleep?
Unless you’re the kind of film-purist who scoffs at the idea of some of The Shining being re-shot and recreated for this film, Doctor Sleep is well worth the watch. It’s mostly a slow-burn suspense, so don’t go into the theater expecting a supernatural bloodbath with mountains of jump-scares. That’s simply not what Doctor Sleep is like. Beyond some pacing issues that might encourage you to check your watch for the time, Doctor Sleep is a compelling sequel that does justice to both King’s novel and Kubrick’s original vision of The Shining.
While Doctor Sleep won’t go down in cinema history as one of the best horror films ever made, it does make its mark as an accurate and entertaining adaptation of Stephen King’s novel. Much like other recent King adaptations (IT (2017), Pet Semetary (2019)), Doctor Sleep continues the trend of quality that audiences have come to expect. You don’t have to be a fan of The Shining or read through Doctor Sleep to enjoy this adaptation. As long as you have the expectation of it being more of a dramatic thriller than a horror film, Doctor Sleep is a great pick for your next creepy movie night.
Rating: 4/5 Stars
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