The shadows of the creepy Overlook Hotel continue to loom large in Doctor Sleep, a follow-up to the horror classic The Shining that doesn’t entirely hit the heights of its predecessor but does offer some spooky delights within the same universe.
Adapted from Stephen King’s 2013 novel, the film feels more like a spiritual successor than a direct sequel, taking characters and concepts from the original and deepening the mythology behind them. Much of the marketing for the movie has played up the ties that it has to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. But aside from the third act, it thankfully doesn’t lean on The Shining’s legacy as much as one may expect.
Still traumatized from the events of his childhood, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) wrangles with his past demons as an adult while also battling drug addiction and alcoholism. He also still carries the magical gift of “shine,” which allows him to communicate with other telepaths like Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who is on the run from a dangerous group known as the True Knot. Led by the cunning Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot hunt down individuals with shine in order to supplement their own immortality. Together, Dan and Abra engage in psychic battle with Rose and her followers while staving off other dark forces along the way.
More often than not, Doctor Sleep reminded me most of a renegade vampire movie a la Near Dark or The Lost Boys as opposed to the haunted house movie that some may go into this film expecting. The members of the True Knot aren’t technically vampires, but given their mind control abilities and tentative immortality, the effect remains the same. In fact, one of the younger members even brands a victim with a double puncture pattern that closely resembles the fangs of a vampire.
Ferguson is particularly excellent as the leader of the gypsy gang, conveying all the menace necessary while slowly adding on layers of humanity that ultimately make her more empathetic than evil.
Writer/director Mike Flanagan, who previously adapted King’s Gerald’s Game for Netflix, once again shows his aptitude for translating the Master of Horror’s prose to the big screen. He navigates the myriad subplots and constantly evolving mysticism of the dense source material to tell an emotionally resonant story about overcoming the ghosts of the past. Kubrick famously clashed with King when he adapted The Shining in 1980, stripping away many plot elements in favor of a spare story with Kubrick’s trademark sense of chilly remove. Comparatively, Doctor Sleep is a much warmer and more sentimental film that embraces the affectionate tone behind much of King’s work.
For much of the running time, the film seems to get out from the shadow of its predecessor, so it’s ultimately disappointing when the finale goes into overload when it comes to callbacks. Nearly every memorable piece of iconography from the horror classic, from the fiendish ghouls and haunting music score down to the lightbulbs that illuminate the chilling corridors, is recreated to diminishing results. Flanagan does put his own angle, so to speak, on a famous shot shown this time from a different perspective, deliberately throwing off Kubrick’s ever-present symmetry. It’s touches like these, along with the substantial supernatural story, that make Doctor Sleep a worthwhile watch for fans of Stephen King and horror in general.
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