If you know one thing about Stephen King, it’s probably about how much he hates Stanley Kubrick’s adaption of his novel ‘The Shining’. Time and time again, King has talked about his distain for the 1980 cult classic, from his disgust at how Wendy was portrayed, to skimping on the supernatural elements and the absence of Jack’s alcoholism, King has much to complain about. However, ‘The Shining’ stands the test of time and is one of the most dissected pieces of cinema (there is literally a documentary breaking the film down) and is beloved by many cinephiles. So, after King wrote a follow-up to his novel, a film adaption was inevitable - but with his very public hate for the original film, just how was this sequel going to be both worthy to Kubrick’s film and also a faithful adaption to the book?
After surviving the events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother, Wendy Torrance (Alex Essoe), are still traumatised by what look place, with Danny especially trying to working out his shine. Now an adult (Ewan McGregor, ‘Christopher Robin’, ‘T2 Trainspotting’) and having put his alcoholism behind him, he has found some peace in a small town, working in a hospital with people as they pass on. But Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, ‘Mission: Impossible - Fallout’, ‘The Greatest Showman’) is the head of a cult known as True Knot who hunt for children with powers just like Danny’s. Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with an incredibly strong shining, shows up seeking guidance from Danny who in turn must protect her from Rose and her cult.
To answer my first question, the film surprisingly does appear faithful to both Kubrick’s film and King’s novel. While in parts the referencing to the film is heavy-handed, for the most part, it’s tasteful and respectful. The film is very smart in terms of when to return to the Overlook Hotel, and it feels naturally integrated into the plot and not fan service. Outside of the literal referencing, the cinematography and editing help to make the films feel connected, very naturally too. The score also beautifully elevates ‘The Shining’s’ already great soundscape.
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This film digs deeper into King’s supernatural backstory then Kubrick ever did. To me, at least, the supernatural element in ‘The Shining’ is more an afterthought; it’s about a man going insane, and while his son has some kind of power that’s not the focus. With ‘Doctor Sleep’, however, it’s the whole story. Rose and her cult are constantly using their powers, going into people’s minds, reading them, the whole nine yards. The visuals in some of the mind-Reading scenes are jaw-dropping; they are beautiful to look out and really captivating. I really enjoyed how far it went with this element, and all the physic powers are really on show here.
‘Doctor Sleep’ really wants to “correct” the lack of alcoholism in the original film by making Danny one as well as mentioning Jack’s battle. Again, this feels natural, and knowing that this is here mainly because King was pissed it wasn’t In ‘The Shining’ isn’t how it comes across in the film. The film also does give Wendy Torrance some agency and gives her a beautiful cinematic send off.
The thing that weighs this film down the most is its runtime. The film feels even longer due to its time-jumping first act. We start the film setting up Rose the Hat and her cult, seeing how she captures children in the 1980s. We then see what Danny and Wendy are doing after surviving the Overlook Hotel, with Danny’s nightmares very drawn out. Thankfully, they recast the actors and didn’t go for that overused de-aging affect, which will certainly make the film hold up better in the long run. We then go to 2011, where an older Danny drinking, take drugs, being a deadbeat as well as seeing the Cult capturing more victims. This scene takes place in a cinema and the posters they chose to display where ‘The Lucky Ones’ and ‘Dark Shadows’ - and you’re dang right I laughed my arse off; 2011 was an interesting year. We also get our first glimpse of Abra, who is already showing high physic powers. We then finally jump another eight years to present day where the rest of the film takes place. It seems there could have been a faster way to condense all this backstory and setup. The previous film may not have some of these elements, but we don’t need to see every detail so drawn out.
If you’re looking for a “where are they now” story, you aren’t going to get that from ‘Doctor Sleep’ - it’s an exploration of what it means to have the Shining power.
The marketing for the film may have you believe that Danny Torrance is the focus of the story and still dealing with the events that took place at the Overlook, but that isn’t the movie at all. It’s more a story of an evil, powerful being trying to take down a new powerful physic. ‘The Shining’ stuff doesn’t add much to the film, but it was still enjoyable. If you’re looking for a “where are they now” story, you aren’t going to get that from ‘Doctor Sleep’ - it’s an exploration of what it means to have the Shining power.
Being King, there are some - let’s say, quirky elements. The cult feeds on steam, and every time they just call it steam it’s hilarious. It never falls into B-Movie cheesy territory, but in the wrong hands this could have gone bad.
This film nudges out ‘Mission: Impossible’ for my favourite Rebecca Ferguson role. She has been in a lot of trash from ‘The Snowman’ to ‘Men in Black: International’, and she has had a bit of rough patch but here she is devouring the scenery in the best way possible. She is incredible as this hippie cult leader, perfectly creepy and terrifying while still being fun and cool. In a second she goes from being cheesy to horrifying, and was all-round a great movie villain.
The other expectational stand out is Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone. She is one of the strongest people with the Shining, and thought at first feels like a real kid while scary things happening around her, she stands her ground and fights back. She is perfectly balanced in her curiosity and unawareness of the threat around her. Curran perfectly captures all of that, and I hope we get to see more from this rising star. The only strange thing was her room was filled with R.W.B.Y. merch and I still don’t know why. The other young actor standout is a surprise appearance by Jacob Tremblay (‘Room’, ‘Good Boys’); his scene is so haunting and it’s definitely a movie highlight.
‘Doctor Sleep’ could go either way with ‘The Shining’ fans - some will see it as a perfect follow-up, others will deem it too different (which I think is a good thing). ‘Doctor Sleep’ works as both and also stands on its own; you could fill in the blanks pretty easily if you had never read or seen the original film. It’s a fun supernatural horror film aided by fantastic performances by Ferguson and Curran.