“Doctor Sleep” is a sequel to the classic Stanley Kubrick horror film “The Shining,” both of which are based on bestselling Stephen King novels. This movie follows an older Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who is trying to move on from the events of “The Shining.” Dan must face his past when the True Knot—a dangerous cult of people who feed on children similar to Dan with supernatural powers known as “shining”—sets its sights on a powerful young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), whom he must protect.
I love Kubrick’s “The Shining,” and the first trailer for “Doctor Sleep” had me intrigued. Although “Doctor Sleep” is not a perfect movie, it is still up there with “The Lighthouse” and “Us” as one of the best horror movies of 2019.
Much of what works with this film comes down to writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan, who already made “Gerald’s Game” (2017), another Stephen King adaptation. Rather than overly relying on jump scares like most modern horror movies, Flanagan creates a dark aura with his direction, which is fitting for a sequel to “The Shining.” Scenes that should feel tense and atmospheric feel tense and atmospheric. Flanagan obviously can’t top Kubrick, but he succeeds at making the sequel his own.
The cinematography from Michael Fimognari is also noteworthy. He uses a muted color palette for this movie—not muted like a Zack Snyder movie but muted where it feels like a sequel to “The Shining.” Regardless, it makes “Doctor Sleep” look even better.
The performances are all incredible. McGregor is excellent as an older Danny Torrance. Once Dan thinks he has moved on from his past traumas, he is brought into a conflict that makes him face his past. It is a difficult role to pull off since the actor needs to channel a certain darkness within him, but McGregor thankfully does so. Newcomer Curran shines in the role of Abra Stone. She has these fantastical powers, and Abra gives off a sense of wonderment but also understands the seriousness of her situation, which leads to some amazing moments. Curran definitely has a promising career ahead of her.
Rebecca Ferguson is also outstanding as Rose the Hat, the villainous leader of the True Knot. Her performance is sinister for sure, but she often brings a certain playfulness that raises the character above a generic power-hungry villain. This character is fascinating to say the least, and I would like to learn more about her in some way or another.
In terms of the screenplay, Flanagan succeeds at writing a film that appeals to both fans of “The Shining” movie and book. King, who is an executive producer on “Doctor Sleep,” has been vocal about his disdain for Kubrick’s adaptation of “The Shining” because it deviates too much from his source material—even though today, more people are familiar with the film than the book. Flanagan had the challenge of whether this movie should serve as a sequel to either “The Shining” book or the movie, but it is actually a sequel to both. While I haven’t read “The Shining,” research has taught me that this movie incorporates references from the book, which motivates me to read it. I am glad that Flanagan kept important elements from the movie, especially because it is more recognized than the book. Many people will take issue with the references to “The Shining” movie, but these references are more than simply fan service and thankfully do not distract from the important elements (plot and characters).
“Doctor Sleep” not only works as a sequel but also stands on its own as an exceptional movie. I know I have mentioned “The Shining” plenty of times throughout this review, but “Doctor Sleep” is similar to “Blade Runner 2049” in that it works as a standalone story within “The Shining” universe. Seeing “The Shining” first is definitely recommended, but I am interested to know whether or not people who do not see it first before watching this movie will understand the latter.
“Doctor Sleep” also examines complex issues about facing inner demons. There are several scenes with Dan that gives the movie a soft exterior in between the many frightening moments. Although this film is less of a horror movie than its predecessor, it still features a scene involving a young boy that is terrifying; I’m sure I am not the only one who will feel this way.
If I had any problems with “Doctor Sleep,” it is that the pacing can sometimes drag. “The Lighthouse,” another psychological thriller released this year, was deliberate in its slow placing. “Doctor Sleep,” on the other hand, is two-and-a-half hours and feels like it could have been shorter. That is a small issue I have with this movie that will probably go away on repeat viewings.
“Doctor Sleep” is a great sequel and great film overall. It takes elements from both “The Shining” book and movie to create something special, complete with memorable performances and top-notch directing. More people need to go see this film because it’s underperforming at the box office.