Doctor Sleep review: a brave yet flawed sequel to The Shining


Doctor Sleep

Sequel to horror classic The Shining, Stephen King’s latest film Doctor Sleep is reviewed by Getintothis Vikki Gregorich.

Playing to his strengths as a skilled horror filmmaker, having made films like Oculus (2013) and Hush (2016) and this reviewers favourite TV show of 2018, The Haunting of Hill House, Mike Flanagan delivers a well-made and cleverly thought-out film.

This is your classic good-versus-evil three act horror film. We meet our alcoholic protagonist, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), haunted by his childhood, and taunted by his paranormal abilities, which he calls “shining”.

He gets sober, then redemption through helping a powerful young psychic called Abra (Kyliegh Curran) defeat the True Knot.

Lead by Rose the Hat, (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot are a family of itinerant, supernatural vampires, who “feed” on the psychic power of children by kidnapping, torturing and killing them.

Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining. The film version of The Shining (1980) was directed by Stanley Kubrick, one of the greatest filmmakers of all time, and is widely considered one of the greatest horror films of all time.

Doctor Sleep is also an adaptation of a Stephen King novel. There are other adaptations of Stephen King novels which are ranked amongst the best-loved films of all time (Shawshank anyone?)

To top all of this off, Doctor Sleep is released in the same year as yet another Stephen King adaptation, IT Chapter 2, which recently became the second highest grossing horror film of all time.

Is Mike Flanagan, the writer and director of Doctor Sleep, a brave man or just addicted to pressure?

The film and book version of The Shining have significantly different endings, which generates some awkward questions about how this film could be made. Should it be a sequel to the film or directly adapt the book?

Mike Flanagan is a brave man, because, somewhat pleasingly, his answer to this question was “both”.

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There will be some elements of the film that don’t make much sense to the uninitiated.

For example, the film does not clearly tell you who or what Doctor Sleep is, a central theme of the book, which is covered with only a passing remark in the film, and therefore making the title redundant.

(Doctor Sleep is Dan Torrance by the way.)

Scenes, props and characters pop up with little introduction and a knowing nod. These are references/homages to the film of The Shining, but like knowing someone is mocking you in a foreign language, if you haven’t seen it, you may feel confused or irritated.

If you like your horror films snappy, you also may get a bit bored, because this film runs 152 minutes long, in no small part to its gleeful dancing around Kubrick’s original ideas.

Fans of the source material will find a lot of this delightful. The patterns, the location and the knowing nods will give you that sweet serotonin reward of recognition we all crave, but there will be parts where you’re wishing for a “less is more” approach, especially when characters you know (and love) from The Shining appear.

There are some genuinely good horror moments. Rose the Hat is calculating, driven and merciless when it comes to her victims, but protective and matriarchal with the True Knot.

When Rose is challenged by the powerful Abra, her own fear and horror play out superbly. This leads to an Ahab-like obsession with Abra which clouds her judgement and ultimately leads to her downfall.

The good guys, Abra and Dan, have some excellent scares, stares and screams, but it’s Rose the Hat that stands out. She’s a first-rate horror villain, sometimes empathetic, mostly repulsive, and an excellent Halloween costume for young women everywhere.

The odd special effect misses the mark; there are scenes where the FX looks clunky, giving the impression of money having been spent elsewhere. Fans of the book will be disappointed in the “cycling” of the True Knot.

Is this film it a horror classic? No, but it is brave and interesting.

Rewarding Mike Flanagan by seeing it might encourage him to make more.