Return up the mountain
After The Shining: Doctor Sleep
FORTY-TWO years after the publication of Stephen King’s seminal horror novel and 39 years after the release of Kubrick’s groundbreaking film, a sequel to The Shining has finally arrived on the big screen. Doctor Sleep, an adaptation of King’s 2013 novel of the same name, follows the adult Danny Torrance as he tries to cope with the horrors of his past while also protecting a young girl with powerful psychic abilities from a violent and cannibalistic cult.
The film, unlike Kubrick’s own take on the source material, is a faithful adaptation of King’s novel while also taking place in Kubrick’s cinematic universe. You can tell that Mike Flanagan (Doctor Sleep’s director, writer and editor) has a fond love of both the author’s and the director’s work.
However, in its pursuit to find the middle ground between two differing storytelling visions, Doctor Sleep fails to establish its own voice and can’t stop itself from feeling like a loving shrine to all things ‘Shining’.
The story starts off well, as we see young Danny and his mother Wendy trying to restart their lives after their horrific ordeal at the Overlook Hotel. In quite a bold move, all of The Shining’s characters are recast with age appropriate actors. Alex Essoe is successfully able to embody Shelley Duvall’s nervous yet caring nature as Wendy, and the young Roger Dale Floyd slips into Danny Lloyd’s shoes as the suitably quiet and unnerving Danny.
Some of the re-castings leave a lot to be desired though, especially when we see the return of Jack Torrance, one character that will never quite shake off Nicholson’s iconic
After we see Danny learning to cope with the ghosts of the Overlook still haunting him, the film jumps in time. Ewan McGregor plays the middle-aged Danny, now called Dan, a violent alcoholic who tries to supress his shining abilities.
McGregor plays a good part, subtly portraying a man hopeful for the future while also being crippled by childhood trauma.
Dan’s life looks up as he moves to a small town in New Hampshire, stops drinking and gets a job as a hospice orderly. It isn’t long however until Dan gets embroiled in the sinister machinations of the True Knot, a cult of quasi-immortals who feed on children with a powerful shining ability.
Dan comes into contact with Abra (Kyliegh Curran) a particularly powerful young girl, whom the True Knot plans to kidnap and consume. He chooses to help protect her, which eventually leads to him returning to the evil and foreboding Overlook Hotel.
The plot, although not as mysterious or as absorbing as The Shining, is still enjoyable, thrilling and genuinely quite scary and disturbing at times. The visuals are heavily indebted to Kubrick’s film, with many subtle and overt references to The Shining film seen throughout. This can especially be seen at the film’s climax. The return to the Overlook feels like a triumphant victory lap for the story’s fabled reputation. The return up the mountain accompanied by the iconic score is enough to give any fan goosebumps.
Doctor Sleep does do a lot to dispel the psychological mystery of Kubrick’s film, instead favouring King’s supernatural approach. For me, a huge fan of Kubrick, I thought this departure was a bit much. So much emphasis is placed upon the shining ability and the ghosts of the Overlook that this sequel’s
connection to the original can feel disjointed despite the obvious visual motifs and tributes.
Despite the internalised King/ Kubrick conflict that can at times rock the boat, the film manages to be a worthy successor to both their works. A film so devoted to its source materials that it needs their contexts to be validated, but it still doesn’t stop Doctor Sleep from being an enjoyable modern horror that The Shining fans won’t want to miss.