It was only last month that I wrote a review on Stephen King’s The Shining (1980), but much like Jack Torrance with an axe, the film came crashing through my door once more.
Doctor Sleep (2019) is the latest Stephen King novel made into a movie. Directed by Mike Flanagan, this sequel to The Shining is about the continuation of Dan Torrance’s life after the traumatic events of his childhood at the Overlook Hotel. As a grownup, played by Ewan McGregor, Dan struggles as he’s haunted by the memories of the past and his parents. After deciding to settle in a small town, Dan turns his life around for the better, keeping his head down low and hiding his shine. But the shine doesn’t dim, and Dan finds himself back in the horrors of it all. He connects with Abra, a young girl who also possesses “the shine” and has captured the attention of The True Knot—a group of psychics that kill and feed off people with “the shine” to retain their youth and power.
Sequels sometimes tend to disappoint, and I wondered how Doctor Sleep would compare to The Shining with an almost 40-year gap in between the two. As the film came to an end, so did my worries. Doctor Sleep gave its audience a rich, new story while incorporating the familiarity of its prequel. That unsettling fear stays with the audience to this day, just as it follows Dan through his life—you want to close your eyes and hope everything is okay when you open them, but the action keeps you watching and only the sight of blood remains. The True Knot and its leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) did an amazing job of striking fear with horrific violence, and Abra (Kyliegh Curran) matched that performance in the courage and strength she portrayed. Those themes of strength and courage were prominent throughout the film as they helped Dan get over the trauma of his childhood and face his fears—it kept him “shining.”
With The Shining still fresh on my mind, I loved coming back to the Overlook and seeing all those iconic elements of the 1980 film done in Doctor Sleep. It’s like when a nightmare you’ve had before comes back to you, and you feel that chill all over again. The journey back into Dan Torrance’s life and the depths of the Overlook was done in a way that vividly brought back Stanley Kubrick’s version and that made me happy to see. Although, I also love that Flanagan did a beautiful job of making the Doctor Sleep film his own. Doctor Sleep’s story took a different turn from The Shining that I didn’t expect, and I enjoyed the thrill of the unknown. Even King, who very clearly expresses his distaste for Kubrick’s version, loved Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep.
Movie critic Peter Howell asked Flanagan, “When you approached Stephen King with your Doctor Sleep idea of wanting to also revisit Kubrick’s Overlook Hotel narrative from The Shining, was he waiting for you on his porch with a shotgun?” to which Flanagan replied that after convincing him and getting his blessing, King loved the movie. King told Entertainment Weekly, “I said to myself, ‘Everything that I ever disliked about the Kubrick version of The Shining is redeemed for me here.’”