Doctor Sleep - a worthy sequel to The Shining
Updated: Nov 11, 2019
3.5 out of 5
The Shining was the first Stephen King book I ever read. It was 1977 and I loved the book. I was too young to see Stanley Kubrick’s film of the book when it came out three years later. Up until a few weeks ago I had only ever seen it on the small screen at home but as part of the build up to the release of its sequel, my local cinema screened The Shining and even though I had seen it several times, the chance to see it on the big screen, as it was meant to be seen, was too good to pass up. So yes, you could call me a fan. I have even visited Timberline Lodge in Oregon a couple of times. It was The Overlook hotel featured in The Shining. Sadly there is no room 237 there. But they do have fire axes!
When Stephen King published Doctor Sleep in 2013, I was keen to find out what had happened to young Danny Torrence and his Mom after their experience in The Overlook hotel. I enjoyed the book and like all of King’s stories, they are great until you get to the end, a phenomenon he acknowledges himself. When I heard it was being turned into a film, I was curious. When I heard Ewan McGregor was to play Dan Torrence, I got excited. When I read that Mike Flanagan (2013’s Oculus) was writing and directing - it sounded perfect.
It’s fair to say then that I approached Doctor Sleep with apprehension, excitement and more than a worry that Danny’s story might be tarnished. When I saw the old 1980’s Warner Bros logo at the start with a burst of strings from Wendy Carlos and Richard Elkind’s original Shining score, I relaxed into my chair feeling safe and secure. This was going to go well.
The story unfolds with a tribe of people called The True Knot who travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless; mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) knows, and Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the "steam" that children with the "shining" produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father's legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant "shining" power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes "Doctor Sleep." Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan's own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra's soul...
Writer and director Mike Flanagan has crafted a good sequel to The Shining. It’s not perfect but then neither was Kubrick’s original. But it is good. It’s helped by good performances by McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson as Rose The Hat. Ferguson embodies the character with a delightful sexy menace, beguiling and bewitching but bad, very bad. The origins of The True Knot are never fully explained but there is enough exposition to fill in the blanks. Newcomer Kyliegh Curran is wonderful and can hold her own beside McGregor and against Ferguson. She has a strong, believable presence. It’s nice to see Henry Thomas too, yes that Henry Thomas, Elliot from ET, getting to play Jack Torrence in an interesting sequence where Danny meets his father. No spoilers
Like all of King’s works and screen adaptations, there is a strong need for suspension of disbelief. If you can manage this, Doctor Sleep is an enjoyable sequel.
Flanagan and his “Doctor Sleep” team rebuilt the Overlook Hotel for Doctor Sleep “using the exact blueprints from Stanley Kubrick’s film, which were in storage at Warner Bros.” Flanagan also “spent days analyzing every frame of the movie to track down every book on every shelf and every framed photograph on every wall.” The final result is an Overlook Hotel that is identical to Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel in “The Shining.” I loved the attention to detail apart from one bit. When Dan returns to the room his family stayed in at the Overlook, he sees the bathroom door his Dad, Jack hacked open with the axe and puts his face in the axed open panel, reenacting the iconic "Here's Johnny" shot. However, in The Shining, Jack hacked both upper panels of the door to try and get to Wendy, not just the one. Oh well, you can’t have everything!
It’s not without its faults but I came away satisfied. Kudos to all involved in crafting a very worthy sequel.