Consider me shocked. As much as I enjoyed director Mike Flanagan’s Oculus, the idea of messing with Stanley Kubrick’s vision by making a sequel to The Shining is a tough prescription for Doctor Sleep to fill.
Most of you already know that Stephen King didn’t care for what Kubrick did to The Shining. His 2013 sequel novel, Doctor Sleep, hews directly to what he originally put down on the page in 1977. Flanagan doesn’t play that game. His adaptation borrows the broad strokes of the story while culling most of the maddening bits. This means that Flanagan leans heavily on Kubrick’s 1980 film, from the opening shots of young Danny Torrance riding a tricycle on that carpet to Room 237, right down to the smallest details of production design.
Could any project be more perfectly suited to playing with the sense that this is a story we can never escape? Doctor Sleep is nothing less than an unabashed love letter to what came before. At the same time, it expands the mythology and carves its own path. That isn’t an easy thing to do, but the writer/director/editor takes the challenge head-on.
Ewan McGregor plays the adult Danny as a lost alcoholic, drowning his talents with booze because he’s inherited the pain that drove his father’s madness. We meet many of the old characters, but also new ones such as young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), whose psychic powers dwarf Danny’s. Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) leads a coven called the True Knot that vampirically feed on people who “shine,” nourished by their terror.
The film is structured as a cat-and-mouse chase, but beyond the simple plotting are deep moments of character development. Danny has to come to terms with the horror he experienced as a child, and the ghosts of his past help shape him into being a better human. The sideshow aspect that gives the film its title is dispatched quickly in favor of a deeper reflection on how the past provides a path to the future. In other words, this is a sequel that struggles with the very notion of being a sequel, and wonders whether people, like films, can be afforded second acts.
The possibilities for all this to crash and burn were high, but thanks to committed performances, fantastic visuals, and a compelling story that expands the Shining narrative, Doctor Sleep may well, in time, be considered a classic in its own right.