There is one piece of vital information you need to know before seeing Doctor Sleep, those who like me obsess over the masterpiece that is The Shining will already know this. Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. He hated it because of how unfaithful Kubrick was with the source material, but of course, not everyone shared his opinion. This posed a challenging task for director Mike Flanagan to reconcile the differences between the two with his adaptation of Doctor Sleep. How can you satisfy two groups of people (book and film) who see the story with different eyes? It’s quite miraculous then how Flanagan has managed to pull this off as Doctor Sleep will put smiling faces on book and film fans alike.
To have satisfied both sets of fans, the film must be built on good foundations, and indeed it is as there are so many great performances that get you engaged in its characters before it dumps The Shining nostalgia. Ewan McGregor is great as now grown-up Danny Torrance whose life has gone of the rails, subduing his trauma through alcohol, following in his father Jack Torrance’s footsteps. His story within Doctor Sleep is a journey to combat his demons who have followed him beyond the Overlook Hotel.
Accompanying Danny is Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who possesses very powerful shine abilities and has become a target for the main antagonist group The True Knot led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who I was incredibly impressed by. Her character is possibly the most sinister and fleshed out villain I’ve seen all year and Ferguson does a fantastic job along with other members of The True Knot. You spend a lot of screen time with this group and because of this, you understand everything about them, their current situation, what they want and why they want it. All these factors accumulate into villains that feel threatening to the main characters which makes rooting for them easier.
I really like how the film explored the extent of shining through Abra’s abilities, we learn early on that her ability to shine is stronger than most. The Shining only showed off a fraction of what Danny was able to do but in Doctor Sleep, we see various ways shining can be used such as seeing through other people’s eyes, looking into the past, creating illusions, etc. One of my main worries about Doctor Sleep was that there would be elements that felt too farfetched, because of how contradictory the Doctor Sleep book and The Shining film were, but these uses of shining are very believable for a world colliding film.
The overarching theme of alcoholism is another exploration that is taken further. We’ve established already how Danny has been using drink to combat the spirits of the Overlook, however, Doctor Sleep looks at the more manipulative side of alcohol and captures the realities of a recovering alcoholic. Late on in the film we here alcohol referred to as “medicine” and a key to the spirit of the Overlook that allows it to possess them, which hints at some sort of lore exploration.
At times I felt that Doctor Sleep started to become something on its own, becoming almost separate from The Shining by how it staged an atmosphere. The Shining was very much built on tension and the idea of getting the audience to think along the lines of “what’s around the corner” or what is being suggested through supernatural imagery. Doctor Sleep’s atmosphere feels much more brutal, especially with The True Knot. There are so many scenes that are not only difficult to watch but difficult to listen to. I must admit even I found it almost unbearable to watch because of how disturbing some scenes are, and I usually have a strong stomach for difficult scenes.
My main flaw with the film is that although there aren’t too many farfetched departures from the book or The Shining film, there is one scene where the actions felt so out of place, that is sort of took you out of the viewing experience and current tone the film had been slowly building.
Now the biggest question people will have is about how much nostalgia the film uses to get people on its side. This is the controversial bit because there is a heap of nostalgic moments and throwbacks to famous moments and elements that Kubrick crafted, however, it is forgivable because of how smartly they are placed. We get a heap of moments in the climactic scenes of the film when Danny goes back to the Overlook Hotel, but two-thirds of the film features hardly any references, maybe the odd one or two. To me, this is clever of Mike Flanagan because he takes the time to tell a story and present character, we may be unfamiliar with, before getting into the familiar. However, I can see this nostalgic overload still being too much for people and the criticisms of it are still strong.
Do you know what I did before I sat down before I wrote this review, I started to think about theories, interpretations, wanting to get answers the same way I wanted answers from The Shining. Doctor Sleep will get people talking and give birth to new, exciting theories about Kubrick’s masterpiece. If you go into Doctor Sleep looking for something that can live up to The Shining, you’re asking for disappointment. The Shining has had 39 years to become a flagship film in modern horror history, but if you are looking for a film that is worthy of being called its predecessor, Doctor Sleep has you covered.