Doctor Sleep is a worthy sequel to the classic horror film The Shining. It walks a fine line paying tribute to the original movie while following its own artistic path and succeeds.
Doctor Sleep is based on a 2013 novel of the same name by Stephen King. It is a sequel to what is arguably his best novel The Shining written in 1977. The Shining was adapted loosely by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. That film is a legendary piece of horror cinema. With that kind of baggage this story has a lot to live up to. The first question is why bother? Why make a sequel to one of the best horror novels ever? Why make a sequel to one of the best movies ever? The wonderful thing about this movie is that it has an answer, and it’s a good one.
This movie picks up shortly after the events of The Shining with Danny Torrence dealing with the horrific events he experienced during his time at The Overlook Hotel with his family. He is deeply traumatized and the ghosts that haunted the hotel haven’t forgotten about him. They have followed him to his new home.
Mike Flanagan is the director. He is one of the best horror directors working today because he infuses all of his horror with meaning. His scares and ghosts are almost always metaphors and symbols of something deeper within his characters. Here, the ghosts are trauma. Danny is haunted not by ghosts, but by his past and the abusive childhood he suffered. This is a movie about overcoming pain and past issues and growing as a person. It’s a movie with a heart and a mind to back up the visceral experience.
The movie flashes forward in time to Danny as an adult. He has engaged in some very bad coping mechanisms in order to deal with his trauma and it isn’t until he finds support that he’s able to grow past it. A large portion of the movie is devoted to Danny’s experiences of cleaning up his life and becoming a better person, and the movie is richer for it. It is a true character study for a lot of its runtime, and it’s a very compelling one at that.
But evil comes a calling. Danny has an ability. He calls it the shining. He can perceive more than most. He can communicate with people without words. He can see ghosts. It turns out he isn’t the only person with this ability. There are lots of people who shine, and as we see, there are those who hunt people who shine. These people call themselves the True Knot. They torture and murder those who shine because when they are in pain they release something called Steam. The True Knot consumes this steam and it prolongs their life indefinitely. The True Knot find a girl who can shine called Abra. Abra reaches out to Danny and together they try to defeat the True Knot.
The movie is so well made. Every shot is perfectly composed to create a sense of unease. The use of music is impeccable. It enhances every moment and never feels overpowering. The lighting feels like Kubrick’s lighting while never feeling like a copycat. The movie is tense and foreboding without becoming too much.
The story structure feels like a Stephen King novel. This movie feels like one of his novels more than any other film I’ve seen. It follows the structure of the novel and has a deliberate pace that runs counter to most movies these days. This pacing is so refreshing. Most movies follow such a predictable structure that you can guess what will happen at any moment. This one is surprising and keeps the audience on edge by never quite doing exactly what you think it will.
The movie is not a particularly scary movie. It doesn’t have a lot of jump scares and spooky things hiding around corners. It is however incredibly tense and deeply horrifying in other ways. The sequence in which the True Knot kidnaps and tortures a boy with the shining is one of the most deeply unsettling sequences I’ve seen in years. It is not for the squeamish or faint of heart. It is very intense at times, but it isn’t filled with traditional scares. This isn’t so much a horror movie as it is a movie about horror and what horror does to someone.
Ewan McGregor plays Danny, and he is perfect. He never gives a bad performance really, but here he’s very effective. He is honest and true and has so much going behind his eyes. Rebecca Ferguson plays Rose the Hat the leader of the True Knot. She is charming and alluring, then she’s vicious and repulsive. She is a very compelling monster for this movie.
The movie is so well made, so well acted, and so thoughtful that it has absolutely earned its place alongside The Shining. It is a very different movie, but it is absolutely worth watching if you have the stomach for its more intense moments. It’s totally my cup of tea. A