It wouldn’t have been easy to decide to make a sequel to seminal work like The Shining. Director Mike Flanagan had to deal with the pressure of handling one of Stanley Kubrick’s best works, and give a quality product in keeping with the recent trend of creating entertaining Stephen King adaptations. It is to be noted that King was vocal of his dislike for The Shining, on account of changes done to his story. Flanagan has chosen some of the best elements from the book to give us Doctor Sleep, a film that has the best of both worlds.
The film starts right where the 1980 psychological horror ended. Instead of opting for the ending from the novel where the Overlook hotel is destroyed, we see the film’s version in which Danny Torrance and his mother have moved to Florida — because they never want to see snow again in their lives. Having trouble with coming to terms with the doings of his father, Jack Torrance, and the horrible inhabitants of the Overlook Hotels, the ghost of Dick Hallorann appears as a saviour and teaches Danny to lock the ghosts in imaginary “boxes” in his mind.
A few decades later, Danny (Ewan McGregor), or Dan as he likes to be called, is an alcoholic who turns a new leaf thanks to a new friend, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). But trouble finds its way when a cult known as the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) feed on “steam” produced by dying people who have the Shining ability akin to Dan. The two characters are connected by Abra Stone (a brilliant Kyliegh Curran), a young girl whose Shining abilities are stronger than Dan’s. With this, Dan finds a purpose to save the kid from the clutches of the clan and even if that means going to that one place he never wanted to go.
The film has no qualms in calling back the elements of The Shining. The first scene is that of Danny riding his trike through the empty corridors of Overlook Hotel, and the beginning of the homage this film pays to the 1980 film — more on the easter eggs later. While it is obvious that Doctor Sleep would be enjoyed in a far better manner if you remember The Shining, expositions from the predecessor make it easier for new viewers to understand the happenings as well.
It’s the women, Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran, who really steal the show. The former, as the head of the True Knot and the purveyor of their cult, delivers her career-best, as the feisty Rose. Curran’s Abra, though being the primary prey for the cult, is never shown as a damsel in distress but a character who can fend for herself and even save others if required. As a man who has seen everything that he shouldn’t have, McGregor pulls off the character of Dan with finesse and subtlety which reminded me of his role as Father Patrick McKenna in another novel adaptation — Angels and Demons. But the film doesn’t give his character the scope to give much, hence making it one-dimensional at times.
I wish the film showed us a little more of his struggles with PTSD and how he recovers from it, or in his words, how he is “running away from myself”. The scenes involving him in the hospice where he puts his powers to help people live their last minutes peacefully (and earns him a moniker which happens to be the film’s title), adds that emotional human touch King is renowned for. And while we are at it, the love of King for creating young characters with telekinetic powers continues with this novel as well and the way he weaves a story around it without making it look anywhere similar to his previous characters is sheer brilliance. This trope has influenced many works over the years, including Stranger Things.
For fans of The Shining, Doctor Sleep is riddled with easter eggs. Room no. 237 became synonymous with the classic and that’s recalled often in Doctor Sleep. Interestingly, the room number written in the first novel was 217 and the owners of Timberline Lodge, which was used to shoot The Shining, requested the makers to change the number to a nonexistent room 237 as they felt that guests would be scared to use the room 217 otherwise. Contrarily, it became the most requested room in the lodge. As a call back to it, there is a room number 217 in the hospice Dan works at.
While on numbers, the year of The Shining’s release, 1980, is the house number of Abra. Danny, who is called Doc by his parents, watches, you guessed it, Bugs Bunny, in one particular sequence. While these surprises did put a smile on my face, they were actually way too many that it begins to cloy after a while. The old woman in the shower trope, for example, is used about three times if I remember right. The long runtime also, if I may say, makes the film lose steam at times.
But these moments are almost masked by the excellent technical prowess of the film. I personally enjoyed how Flanagan has gone ahead with casting different actors for iconic characters instead of
de-ageing old ones in post-production. Recreating the massive Overlook Hotel is one of the best parts of the film and the detailing, right to the bear rug, is nothing short of impressive. The director, who also doubles as the editor, has opted for overlaying cuts to superimpose frames which add an eerie factor.
With many horror films and shows, including The Haunting of Hill House to his credit, Flanagan’s style of using brilliant writing and great background scores to up the ante instead of relying on jump scares and random cuts, is evident here too. On the whole, Doctor Sleep is easily one of the best sequels for a horror film in recent times and Flanagan pulls off a film that’s good enough to be called a worthy successor to The Shining.
Movie: Doctor sleep
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis