By John Hanlon
The Shining, the 1980 drama starring Jack Nicholson and directed by Stanley Kubrick, is widely regarded as a classic horror film. Although Stephen King (who wrote the book the feature was adapted from) wasn’t a big fan of the picture, there are legions of fans who loved its depiction of writer Jack Torrance — accompanied by his son Dan and his wife Wendy — slowly losing his mind in a haunted hotel. Only a few years ago, King continued the story of Dan Torrance in a new novel.
Director Mike Flanagan brings that second book to life in Doctor Sleep, a cinematic adaptation of the book of the same name. The story shows an adult Dan, still struggling with the events that transpired at the Overlook Hotel.
Ewan McGregor stars as Dan, an irresponsible adult who his dampened his “shine” by drinking too much. After moving to New Hampshire and starting to attend AA meetings, Dan begins rebuilding his life. With his “shining” abilities back, Dan forges a friendship with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a youngster with similar powers who leaves several states away.
In a separate part of the country, a psychotic group known as the True Knot hunt and feast on people who “shine.” Led by the enigmatic Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot capture and kill their victims, thriving on the steam that their victims give out when their lives are ending.
While The Shining focused on a small family in a desolate local, this sequel builds a larger world showing the power of “shining” and how those unique abilities are threatened. Even in that larger landscape though, Dan is the clear focal point of the story and McGregor ably portrays the troubled adult who is still recovering from the events of his youth and the alcoholism that has kept him isolated from the world around him.
For much of the film’s running time, the movie’s strongest relationship is between Dan and Abra — two characters who don’t meet until the second act. Both McGregor and the talented Curran are able to capture their kinship even when they aren’t onscreen together. They form a bond over their shared abilities that helps them connect.
At times though, the feature does seem to drag a little as many of the characters are separated for much of the film’s running time. However, when things come together in the third act, those relationships bring an emotional component to the most dramatic encounters.
The plot of Doctor Sleep works to build on the story of The Shining without replicating it and that works to the feature’s advantage. However, there are times when the movie relies too much on some elements of the original, especially when Danny reunites with a spirit from his past at a bar. Scenes that rely too much on nostalgia for The Shining suffer when the actors portraying the classic characters don’t resemble them as closely as one would hope. (Carl Lumbly proves to be the exception to the rule as his portrayal of Dick Hallorann is truly terrific).
Doctor Sleep was undeniably (and regrettably) always going to be compared to The Shining but it has its own story to tell. When it relies on that and the originality of its tale, it truly succeeds. Rebecca Ferguson is a tremendous villain and Kyliegh Curran truly stands out. Director Mike Flanagan, who memorably brought The Haunting of Hill House to life on Netflix, does a great job here but it’s too bad that the feature relies too much on bringing back some old characters to truly focus on moving forward.
Blu-Ray Special Features: The Blu-Ray contains a few great featurettes about this adaptation of the Stephen King sequel. From Shining to Sleep explores the connection between this movie and Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Shining and its connection to Stephen King’s original book. Return to the Overlook shows how the production team recreated the look of the hotel while The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision shows some behind-the-scenes footage of the actors talking about their work. The Blu-Ray also includes a director’s cut version of the film.