Doctor Sleep [REVIEW] – A brilliant and worthy sequel putting a new perspective on ‘the shining’
Stanley Kubrick’s classic 1980 adaptation of Steven King’s ‘The Shining’ is forever regarded as a revolutionary horror movie. The eerie score which resonates throughout the film is a reminder of the never ending grasp the Outlook Hotel has over the tortured Torrance family. Jack Nicholson’s deranged portrayal of the patriarch Jack Torrance is convincing and intriguing as he descends into murderous psychopathy. What also makes this film so great are its iconic lines such as ‘Here’s Johnny’, ‘REDRUM’ or the haunting ‘All work no play’ mantra. So, as one would think, a sequel to this perfect piece of cinema would be a disaster. And many wondered what they could possibly do to follow up the original.
In fact, in 2013, Stephen King himself wrote a sequel to his coveted novel titled ‘Doctor Sleep’ and with Mike Flanagan’s direction and script the story was adapted for the big screen in late 2019. Through Doctor Sleep, Stephen King, one of the greatest writers of the 20th and 21st century, has proven his longevity and added to his profound legacy in the limelight of popular culture and film.
Doctor Sleep has dark, scary undertones with an affinity for deeply affected characters, largely children, being manipulated and hurt. Despite this, the overriding message involves the power of a child to repel evil. The film effectively portrays post-traumatic stress and inner turmoil as crippling but promotes courage to fight against its effects and overcome one’s demons. I recommend this movie to anyone who loves The Shining and assure the doubters that it wasn’t prone to the infamous sophomore-slump of long awaited sequel films.
The overall plot of the film revolves around an older Dan Torrance, fittingly now a doctor, played by Ewan McGregor (‘Star Wars Episode 3’, ‘Trainspotting’, ‘Fargo’) shaped and marred by his childhood trauma who must help a girl, Abra, played by Kyleigh Curran, with an extraordinary grasp of the shining to defeat a group of vagrant, soul eating creatures led by Rose the Hat, played by Rebecca Ferguson (‘Drowning Ghost’, ‘Mission Impossible: Fallout’, ‘The Greatest Shownman’).
Will a sequel be made any time soon?
A sequel to Doctor Sleep is unlikely but may be announced in a couple of years. The film grossed over $70 million at the box office which means that a follow-up is a possibility, but the current pandemic will push it back even more if this is the case.
Flanagan’s sequel has a distinctively different tone to Kubrick’s masterpiece. Partially due to there being a lot more movement between scenes unlike the original which was set in the Outlook for almost its entire duration. Nevertheless, there are a plethora of Easter Eggs and similarities between the movies, such as the beginning using the original score by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkin as a birds-eye view pans over a background of trees and winding roads. Also, the palindrome ‘REDRUM’ playing a part in the narrative, a calling almost for Dan Torrance.
One particular reference, which entails a subtle yet pivotal subplot, is the haggard, old, rotting woman in the bathtub. We see her near the start of the film in the immediate aftermath of the events that took place in ‘The Shining’ as Wendy and the young Dan Torrance try to settle down in a home in Florida. She attracts Dan in the middle of the night compelling him to enter the bathroom as the shower curtain is peeled back before Wendy finds him and takes him back to bed.
This apparition is also present at the very end of the movie as Abra is drawn in by her cunning. Thusly, there is a hint that her future will somehow be similar to Dan’s who, as mentioned, encountered it as a child after a tormenting, supernatural experience which murdered his father – something which is mirrored over the course of the film in Abra’s circumstance.
The group of soul-eating hippies led by Rose The Hat were an interesting bunch of characters. I found it refreshing that the antagonists had little to no power over the protagonists throughout most of the film. Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as the seductive, manipulative villain was strong. I believe Rose and her patriots were integral and useful to the plot as they represented a ‘new evil’ or danger which adds more mystery to the world the characters of this universe inhabit. Albeit they were mostly helpless against the imperious Abra, they deepened the narrative and heightened the stakes as we became enthralled in their cult rituals and behaviour.
I especially enjoyed the film’s denouement as Dan revisits the hulking, desolate and abandoned Outlook Hotel after nearly forty years in hope of halting Rose The Hat. When Dan enters the Gold Room, nostalgia floods into viewers as he undergoes the same path through the same camera angles as his father had done in ‘The Shining’. The twist of having Jack Torrance at the bar as Lloyd was a terrific touch by the writers as we see Dan’s inner conflict and subsequent insanity as he is possessed by the spirits of the hotel and follows in his father’s footsteps.
All of this catharsis is rounded off by the tragic death of Dan as he burns in the fire of the gas room. Despite this, he remains alive as a ghost in eyes of those with the shining. The cliff hanger involving Abra and the woman in the bath is left open to interpretation and characteristic of the horror-movie form – nothing is fully resolved and when it is something else will soon take its place.
The motif of sleep is a vital part of the film as it is both a pacifier and a gateway to dreams and nightmares. We have the dynamic of sleeping and the idea of a doctor simply through the movie title and soon realise its significance as Ewan McGregor’s character is a doctor who tends to older, dying folk hence him being doctor sleep, sleep being death of course. Also, it is worth noting that the dreams of Abra are almost a curse and need remedy which abets the idea of a doctor, someone who heals.
One thing I must criticise about the film is the complacency and passivity of the parents of Dan and Abra. Dan is allowed to wander off into all sorts of danger within his own home and Wendy seems oblivious to this recurring pattern. Moreover, Abra’s parents witness her being possessed by her own subconscious in a demonic, chilling, convulsive nightmare and seem to turn a blind eye almost, half scared, half unwilling to consult psychiatric help. After all, this is a commonality in horror which enables the vital trope of misadventure.