It was incredibly brave for the mighty Stephen King to write a follow-up to his seminal 1977 novel The Shining. The tale (and Stanley Kubrick’s film) has sunk deep into horror lore and there was a tremendous amount of expectation placed on Doctor Sleep when it was published in 2013. Was it as good as The Shining? Don’t ask silly questions, but it was a fun read.
King’s book was one thing, but would anyone have the brass cajones to actually attempt to make it into and movie? That move would place it far in the shadow of Kubrick’s 1981 film – an adaptation that King himself loathed. Someone did have the cajones, and that someone was writer-director Mike Flanagan.
Is Doctor Sleep as good as Kubrick’s film? What have I told you about asking silly questions? But it is a worthy follow-up to that film, even if it doesn’t quite have the same menacing tone.
Set forty years after Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson) tried to kill his family in The Overlook Hotel, Doctor Sleep follows a grown-up Danny Torrance (played by Ewan McGregor) who is still afflicted by the supernatural abilities, which he calls The Shining.
Danny numbs his ‘gift’ with alcohol, and stumbles from town to town picking up a selection of odd-jobs (mostly in homes for the dying) as he tries to make sense of his existence. He arrives in the New Hampshire town of Frazier, and it’s here where he finally finds some emotional solace. It is also where he feels the presence of Abra, a young girl whose life is in danger from The True Knot, a cult of ‘Steam’ vampires who thrive on the energy given-off when those with The Shining die.
The True Knot is led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), an ancient Gypsy who is eager to get her hands on Abra’s powers, but Danny is adamant that won’t happen, even if it means facing his fears and returning to The Overlook Hotel.
Doctor Sleep is a faithful adaptation of King’s novel and Flanagan nails the tone of the book and it’s various plot threads. McGregor is good as the conflicted Danny and he’s able to give the character a lot of weight, something of a necessity when you’re dealing with a man suffering from some serious PTSD.
The big selling point of Doctor Sleep is how Flanagan has recreated The Overlook Hotel from Kubrick’s film, complete with its assorted collection of macabre residents. It’s a sight to behold and the film really comes together in the last act. It’s worth watching just for this alone.
Some might argue that Doctor Sleep leans too much on Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, and that might be true but it’s one hell of a film to lean on. Flanagan and company make sure that they add to that original story, rather than taking away from it and that makes this a worthwhile adaptation of King’s novel.
The blu-ray release of Doctor Sleep comes with an extended director’s cut version of the film and three featurettes: From Shining to Sleep, The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Visionand Return to The Overlook. A solid package indeed.