You remember Danny Torrence, right? Loved to ride his Big Wheel down quiet, carpeted hallways. Called his index finger Tony and spoke for him in a creepy voice? Avoided being chopped up into tiny pieces by his father by outsmarting him in a hedge maze?
Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining you didn’t know you’d been waiting 40 years to see, starring survivor Danny Torrence, now all grown up and going by Dan (Ewan McGregor). Dan is an alcoholic, struggling to beat the disease that claimed his father. He’s alone in the world, nothing but a string of bad decisions behind him, not to mention some haunting memories which he tries to repress. He’s trying for a peaceful life these days but when teenager Abra (Kyliegh Curran) reaches out to him via their mutual power (we’re still calling it the shining), he can hardly ignore her, especially because she’s in danger. Her powers are pretty significant and she can feel other kids like her getting brutally murdered. A mysterious cult known as The True Knot, led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), preys on children with powers, drinking their pain and eating their fear to remain immortal.
Of course this struggle will ultimately end up at the Overlook Hotel, where the final showdown takes place. It’s been abandoned literally since the last time Danny was there, and it’s got plenty of trauma triggers just waiting to trip him up. The hotel itself is not unlike the True Knot, sucking at whatever shining powers it can get, and Dan’s presence certainly revives this.
The film has a great supporting cast including Emily Alyn Lind, Zackary Momoh, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas, and especially Carl Lumbly, Jacob Tremblay, and Cliff Curtis. Director Mike Flanagan knows how powerful it is to situate us back into the setting of one of the most famous and successful modern horror movies ever, but he wisely uses it sparingly, creating his own almost separate story that merely feels adjacent to the great Stanley Kubrick oeuvre. Likewise, he doesn’t seek to recreate Kubrick’s style, though the temptation must be great. Doctor Sleep takes a more brooding, almost meditative approach, which might be a nice way of saying slow. It is a bit slow because we take the time to get reacquainted with Dan Torrence and incorporating his infamous past with what we know of him today, because those events have certainly shaped him. There has always been a reason to revisit The Shining; in the first film, Danny’s special powers are relegated to subplot and never get fully addressed. The Shining seems like it’s named after Danny but it’s his father’s story; Jack’s writer’s block and cabin fever and alcoholism and isolation culminate in a rather explosive way. The fact that his son is ‘weird’ is a relatively minor factor in his downward spiral. Finally with Doctor Sleep we get some answers – what is it more than why is it, but it’s still satisfying to tie up some long-nagging loose ends. Of course, it also opens up its own universe of terror and intrigue.
Mike Flanagan’s film hits different notes than Kubrick’s did, though, apart from the synth ones in the score that inspire instant dread. It’s respectful of Kubrick’s masterpiece, but draws a lot on the book by Stephen King, and winds up forging its own identity. To be honest, I was surprised by how much I liked this movie. Flanagan is smart to build his sequel on familiar bones but not to make the film in Kubrick’s image. It helps that they’re very different stories about very different family members. Rebecca Ferguson is a lot of fun as Rose The Hat, and Kyliegh Curran is clearly going to be a huge star. It takes a while to get them together but not only is it worth the wait, it doesn’t feel like a wait, it’s a genuine pleasure to have this creep up on you on all sides until you’re surrounded and the only thing to do is to surrender.