The Shining is a uniformly agreed upon classic. It was the combination of the great Stanley Kubrick in the director’s chair, Jack Nicholson in one of his defining roles, and a story written by the horror master Stephen King that came together to make a truly memorable film that is still talked about today. Now, almost 40 years later, we have the highly anticipated sequel Doctor Sleep.
It’s understandable if this was a sequel you weren’t even aware existed. Although there is a significant time jump between the two films, it is relatively important to have seen the original film before seeing Doctor Sleep. The film primarily follows two characters, Dan Torrance (the son from the original film) and Abra Stone (a new character that also possesses special abilities). We start by seeing Dan and his mother shortly after the horrific ending of The Shinning as they try to regain some sense of a normal life. Dan is still having horrible visions and is trying to learn how to control his fear. Although he seems to be able to stop the visions, we then see him in present day living a rough and lonely life.
As Dan struggles to get by, we meet a young girl named Abra who begins to show amazing abilities which her parents are fearful of acknowledging or letting others see. When the two cross paths years later, it’s while facing down yet another imposing threat that goes by the name Rose the Hat.
There are understandably a few differences between the original film and this sequel. Director Mike Flanagan, best known for his work on Netflix’s Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House, has a very different directing style than Stanley Kubrick. What made The Shinning such an influential film was its use of tension through cinematography. Kubrick had a vision in each of his films that served as a backbone to the entire production. Every camera position was deliberate, every pan left or right was meant to create a rise in suspense, and every longshot of landscape with that eerie theme music playing loudly was designed to create a sense of mystery and fear. Flannagan has means a greater use of visual effects to create shots that would be nearly impossible back in the 1980’s and less quietly tense long pans through an interior of a creepy hotel (even though there are a few in this film).
Even with the noticeable differences in style, Doctor Sleep was at its best when it was in brand new territory. Most of the film is a new story that isn’t strongly linked to the original film. It introduces new characters and locations, it shows off variations of “the Shine” abilities and the amount of other people who have them, and it created a new sense of terror that was different than what audiences feared in The Shinning. The character of Rose the Hat was especially intriguing, and Rebecca Ferguson did an amazing job of making this character both brutally evil with the air of the Mad Hatter. It was very easy to hate Rose the Hat and root for Abra, who was also wonderfully played by Kyliegh Curran.
Where the film took a bit of a dip in quality was when it was trying to recreate the final act of the original film. For a film that succeeded at being new and original with its ideas and actions, resorting to a climax that tried to be one big “Hey, remember the ending of The Shinning?” reference was a bit disappointing. There is one moment in particular that felt so forced it immediately takes you out of the film.
For a sequel to come out almost 40 years after the original, the odds of it being any good or even comparable are pretty slim. Doctor Sleep is one of the rare late sequels that pretty much stuck the landing and provided an original and intriguing story. With familiar characters and some amazing new ones, the story flows beautifully and really pulls you in to this creepy and horrific world that Stephen King has become known for. The final act is the only aspect of this film that kept it from maintaining its fantastic pace, although it wasn’t enough to ruin the whole film. With the way the story leaves off, we may even see a sequel with Abra taking control of the story?