Some films don’t need a sequel. Others shouldn’t have a sequel. In a world where horror films rarely stand alone, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining survived for almost 40 years without a follow-up. No one asked for one, no one expected one and most were quite content with that. Except Stephen King. It’s no secret he wasn’t a fan of the 1980 adaption of his novel of the same name. Despite this, both the movie and original source material remain amongst the greatest horror in their respective mediums. When King released the sequel to his 1977 novel in 2013, Doctor Sleep, it raised eyebrows, especially within the film world when rumours circulated that the Overlook Hotel would be reopening. With Mike Flanagan attached to direct, Doctor Sleep, the movie, was in good hands. He previously managed to make a good follow-up to a terrible film about Ouija boards, but could he make a sequel to such a beloved masterpiece and get away with it?
Danny “Dan” Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has struggled to deal with the events of his childhood which saw him plagued with ghosts and an alcoholic father with a fondness for swinging axes. Following in his father’s footsteps and struggling with his psychic “Shining” abilities, Dan throws himself into a world of excess and depravity. A chance encounter with recovering alcoholic Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) gets him sober, something his father struggled to maintain. With his life back on track he is communicated telepathically by a young girl, Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). She has the same Shining ability as Dan, except much stronger. This power acts like a beacon for the True Knot, a vampire like cult led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who feed on people with who Shine. Abra appeals to Dan for help who must face this new threat while confronting the demons of his past once and for all.
Doctor Sleep works on so many levels. As a sequel it invokes a macabre nostalgia while earning merit in its own right. Flanagan respectfully pays homage to Kubrick while capturing the spirit of King’s novel in a way the 1980 film opted not to. What it doesn’t do is lean too much on what came before. Doctor Sleep is its own story that expands the mythology of King’s world while sticking to the rules previously established. With the True Knot we are presented with memorable villains that delves deeper into the lore of the supernatural while leaving much shrouded in enough mystery that the plot isn’t dragged down by exposition.
McGregor delivers a subdued performance for the most part in stark contrast to Jack Nicholson’s manic rage fuelled fury. It suits the character of the traumatised son trying to distance himself from his father’s sins, still, the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree and McGregor does well to channel that famous grin albeit in more subtle ways. Curran is solid in her portrayal of the young Abra. Naïve yet strong willed, her moral compass attracts danger into her life. She wants to stop the True Knot, perhaps unaware as to how dangerous they really are she soon learns the risks. Ferguson steals every scene she’s in as Rose the Hat, a charismatic and seductive cult leader who is alluring as she is evil. Her chemistry with the cast electrifies the screen as she flirts with her prey and creates a chilling movie monster.
It’s worth noting that The Shining was originally met with disdain upon release and although initial reaction to Doctor Sleep has been positive, like its predecessor I feel it’s a film that will garner greater appreciation in years to come. That’s not to say it’ll be held in the same esteem however it is one of the most effective horror movies in recent memory by a director that is proving to be one of the best horror directors of his generation. And he doesn’t need jump scares to do it.
Doctor Sleep is brilliant, expanding the mythology of King’s world while doffing its cap to Kubrick, it still manages to stand on its own. Frightening and captivating, you’ll find it hard to look away even though your body is screaming for you to do just that. The bar is open and Lloyd is serving drinks. Come on down, he knows what you like.