Doctor Sleep (2019). Film review of the horror sequel to The Shining (1980)

Image from the horror film Doctor Sleep (2019)


star rating 3 out of 5 worth watching

Film review, by Emily Shears, of Doctor Sleep, the sequel to the Stephen King horror The Shining, about a young boy who has psychic abilities. This new film follows on nearly 40 years after the events in that book and film. Starring Ewan McGregor.

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Grown up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) uses his past and shining talent to help save young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) – who also shines – from the clutches of the True Knot – a gang that feed off people that shine to remain youthful.

Review, by Emily Shears

Film poster for Doctor Sleep (2019)

Following up a classic like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is no easy feat, for director Mike Flanagan and even author Stephen King himself. For the hardcore fans of The Shining, its sequel Doctor Sleep should be approached with caution and minimal expectations to avoid disappointment.

Movie adaptations of books have always been something that I’ve taken a lot of interest in. As someone whose rule is – if possible – to read a book before watching the adaptation, reading The Shining and Doctor Sleep prior to their film adaptations release posed a lot of questions and concerns for me:

  • Will Doctor Sleep build upon Kubrick’s interpretation of the book, which famously contrasted that of Stephen King?
  • How will they portray the more fantastical elements of Doctor Sleep without it being Twilight-y?
  • How will they portray characters that lived on in the books that were killed off in the films?

The list goes on.

In many ways Doctor Sleep overcame these obstacles and more, but was ultimately hindered by how weak the book was in comparison with the legacy of The Shining.

The narrative of the Doctor Sleep film flits from Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), struggling with alcoholism as a way of coping with his past, Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl whose shine is a real asset but dangerous if she is in the wrong company, the ‘True Knot’ villains and the victims they savagely pursue in their mission to remain young through inhaling their steam.

For those who’ve read Doctor Sleep this is all easy to follow and expected, but for those going into Doctor Sleep thinking you’ll be heading straight back to check in to the Overlook Hotel, it is excessively lengthy (in true Stephen King fashion).

The main problem with this film is that a group of people feeding off children like vampires is nowhere near as unsettling as the thought of your own family trying to kill you in the isolation of the Overlook Hotel.

This is where the film falls flat, likewise the performances.

Ewan McGregor’s performance as Danny Torrance starts off being particularly sombre as the desperate alcoholic trying to escape his past and the demons from the Overlook who follow him. Once he becomes teetotal, Danny becomes a textbook Ewan McGregor character, in some ways reminiscent of his in Moulin Rouge when he sings Frank Sinatra on a patient’s deathbed.

Rebecca Ferguson’s portrayal of Rose the Hat – the main villain within the film other than the Overlook – is nowhere near as unsettling or menacing as the book depicts her to be, or any of the characters she ultimately confronts once she enters the Overlook Hotel.

Her accent seems to be jutting everywhere in the same way as the film, but if Flanagan had chosen to portray Rose with her jagged, vampiric tooth, the character might have been more shocking.

Danny Torrance’s inevitable return to the Overlook Hotel, with Abra in tow to face Rose the Hat, comes over an hour into the film and even then it feels glib, almost as if they’ve bolted it on as a tick box crowd pleasing exercise for fans of The Shining. The only saving grace is how uncanny the resemblance is to the original hotel; if you’re just wanting to get another glimpse of the infamous hotel corridors and haunting inhabitants then enjoy!

Don’t get me wrong, there are some elements of the film that are executed extremely well, especially the way that it portrayed the more fantastical elements of The Shining connections between Danny and Abra and how Abra infiltrates the mind of Rose the Hat.

The representation of how Danny eventually manages to compartmentalize and box up his trauma from all that he saw at the Overlook is quite powerful, hiding them amongst the snow of the Overlook’s maze.

A-maze-ing. Image from the film Doctor Sleep ( Warner/Intrepid/Vertigo).

Even the way the True Knot cycle between life and death is verging on spectacle in a gruesome way, showing the desperate pulsating eyes of the characters clinging onto the life they’ve strengthened through killing others.

The subtle cameo of the original Danny from The Shining (played by that film’s Danny Lloyd) at the baseball game scene was a lovely touch and in no way as disposable as some movie reboot cameos can be).

It was a welcome surprise to see Carel Struycken – the giant from Twin Peaks – as the original True Knot leader Grampa Flick, too.

Fans of the book will be taken in by how faithful the adaptation appears to be to the source text only to find that it then rips the safety blanket of the text from you and goes off in several unpredictable directions. There are some glaring omissions from the book, a few of these were welcome for me, while others it seemed were avoided due to not wanting to make a political statement, particularly the demise of some of the True Knot members through measles from one of their victims.

Ultimately Doctor Sleep falls short of being the sequel that The Shining deserved, but gives fans of The Shining another chance to enjoy exploring the Overlook Hotel and Stephen King fans a semi-faithful adaptation of the book.

It definitely won’t leave you feeling as cold as Jack Nicholson frozen in a maze.

For more, see the official website.

Cast & credits

Director: Mike Flanagan. 2hr 31mins/151mins. Warner Bros./Intrepid Pictures/Vertigo Entertainment. (15)

Producer: Jon Berg.
Writer: Mike Flanagan.
Camera: Michael Fimognari.
Music: The Newton Brothers.
Sets: Maher Ahmad.

Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McLarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Selena Anduze, Robert Longstreet, Carel Struycken, Catherine Parker.


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