When The Shining was released in theaters in 1980, Stanley Kubrick had already helmed a dozen films – The Shining being one of his last – and had become one of the most accomplished directors of his time. Despite this, the film didn’t immediately receive critical acclaim upon release. As decades went by, The Shining became regarded as one of greatest horror films of all time, even if Stephen King was never too fond of it.
So, how does one create a follow-up to something so influential to the horror genre? Doctor Sleep‘s director Mike Flanagan achieves this by setting the original story aside and actually creating something new.
Doctor Sleep finds the son of Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance, Danny (Ewan McGregor), all grown up in present day. Danny, now going by Dan, is in his 40s and suffering from alcoholism. Although he is trying to turn things around, he can’t help but be haunted by his past.
Dan soon learns the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel aren’t the only forces after him. A cult called the True Knot, feed on the screams and agony of children that have their own special gifts. The cult’s leader, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), Dan, and a gifted young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) are on a dangerous collision course. With the True Knot pursuing him, Dan finds himself back at the Overlook Hotel, the place he and his mother Barley escaped from so many years ago to “wake it up”.
The Ewan-aissance that’s been kicking with Fargo, T2 Trainspotting, and Christopher Robin is still blowing steam, as McGregor gives a raw performance as a lost, broken, beaten-down Dan Torrance. Rebecca Ferguson – known to most as Ilsa Faust in the Mission: Impossible films – gives a menacing, creepy performance, one that proves she deserves more work and better exposure. Kyliegh Curran gives a standout performance as Abra, a powerful girl who also has “the shining”. Abra is determined and more than capable of holding her own despite her young age.
Flanagan takes on Stephen King’s 2013 sequel novel to The Shining and hues fairly close to the novel’s story, all the while making it his own and tying it to Kubrick’s – even in the face of many notable changes to the 1980 original. Like the original, Doctor Sleep is somewhat of a slow-burn, though considerably less than the first. It’s not a horror film with scares at every corner. From the beginning, the film smartly veers away from all the iconic imagery of the first, focusing on the characters and the world at hand. Without delving into spoiler territory, it’s not until the third act where the film starts to rely a little too strongly on the iconography of its predecessor. Despite this, the film is still able to give closure to Danny Torrance quite fittingly.
Flanagan enlisted frequent collaborators the Newton Brothers as composers, who have composed all of Flanagan’s world from Oculus to The Haunting of Hill House, delivering a score that’s subtle, but equally haunting. The behind-the-scenes talent brought a lot to give audiences a full experience.
Ultimately, Flanagan delivers a fresh, fun and scary new chapter of The Shining mythos. Moviegoers may find it reassuring that while seeing The Shining would be more helpful, it isn’t required in order to get the full experience of Doctor Sleep. And while die-hard fans may be turned off by the reliance of revisiting moments from the past, both die-hards and casual fans alike will be able to experience a complete, fulfilling story. The new golden age of horror is looking very promising.
Doctor Sleep scares audiences in theaters November 8th.