A sequel to The Shining? At first glance, it sounds like a terrible idea. Stanley Kubrick’s film is a horror classic. It’s in my personal Top 5 along with The Exorcist, Alien, Halloween and John Carpenter’s The Thing. So, when I heard about Doctor Sleep, I thought Hollywood should just leave well enough alone.
After seeing the film, I think I’m only partly incorrect.
In Doctor Sleep, little Danny Torrance is all grown up and played by Ewan McGregor. He’s following in his father’s alcoholic footsteps until he gets on the wagon and finds a job as an orderly with a local hospice.
Adult Dan Torrance still “shines”, but he does his best to hide his psychic abilities. He helps dying patients transition into the afterlife, earning him the nickname “Doctor Sleep”.
As Dan gets his life back on track, he’s unaware of a creepy cult of psychic vampires who roam the U.S. looking for people who “shine.” They feed on their victims’ psychic powers to obtain a form of everlasting life. When the cult picks up the scent of a young high school girl named Abra, Dan feels compelled to step in and protect her.
Just like Dick Halloran protected Danny from the dangers of The Overlook Hotel, Dan Torrance pays it forward by acting as Abra’s psychic guardian.
As a standalone horror film, Doctor Sleep is successful enough. The film is a tale of the supernatural, struggles with substance abuse and trying to overcome the damage of a crippling childhood. The continuing story of Dan Torrance is entertaining and one worth telling.
Doctor Sleep’s secret weapon is writer/director Mike Flanagan. Over the past ten years, he’s become the best horror filmmaker in the business. Netflix subscribers are very familiar with his work.
Hush, his 2016 thriller about a deaf woman stalked by a masked killer, was purchased by the streaming service while it was blowing up on the festival circuit. He followed that film with his first Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game. And then in 2018, he gave audiences a memorable ten-episode adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House.
Doctor Sleep stumbles when it tries to explain the mysteries of The Shining. The power of Kubrick’s masterpiece lies in its ambiguity. Is it the tale of an alcoholic with a history of domestic violence who takes out his frustrations on his family? Or is it the tale of supernatural forces sending a damaged man into a homicidal rage? Or maybe it’s a bit of both. Whatever the case may be, I don’t need, or want, a new film to ret-con the Kubrick classic and give me the answers that I’ve been denied for nearly 40 years.
Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, and Doctor Sleep plays a bit too much like King’s attempt to set the record straight. He wants to turn The Shining into the film King always wanted it to be. If you think I’m reaching, read the end of The Shining and then watch Doctor Sleep.
Doctor Sleep is currently playing in theaters. I give it 3 out of 5 popcorn buckets.