Doctor Sleep review – a brave sequel, but a clear departure from the soul of Kubrick’s original

Dr Sleep Review

Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis. Directed by Mike Flanagan.

Doctor Sleep put me to sleep. I know film reviewers love making snide comments like that, but this movie really did send me off for a few minutes until I was jolted awake by a loud noise- yet another discordant stab on the violin.

Me missing a segment (which, according to peers, actually contained a character’s death) isn’t the only impediment to my reviewing Doctor Sleep; I also haven’t read either of Stephen King‘s books, although considering that this film is masquerading as a spiritual successor to The Shining movie, which of course I’ve seen a thousand times, it shouldn’t be much of a problem.

Shots from Kubrick’s original masterpiece are actually edited into Doctor Sleep, often digitally altered to fit the scene, which makes for a jarring watch at times. But this jarringness, even of a slightly metaphysical nature, isn’t totally amiss within the whole uncomfortable Shining ethos.

I was impressed with how similar the costumes and set pieces are to the original, especially the hotel’s bar and other memorable rooms, and plenty of motifs within the music and photography are reproduced well, but with a touch of modernity.

Rebecca Ferguson in Doctor Sleep

Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat in Doctor Sleep.

 For me, cracks only show when characters from the Kubrick movie appear, obviously played by different actors. With the exception of Dick Halloran, the casting’s a bit off. Little Danny Torrance isn’t as creepy-cute, his mother is younger and less goofily attractive, and Jack Torrance, so memorably performed by Jack Nicholson, looks more like a thin Danny Baker! I suppose the stress of racism allegations helps with shedding a few pounds. The actors impersonations are fine, and I couldn’t help but feel that, considering these characters rarely show up, some clever and obscuring camera angles could have avoided shattering this illusion.

So how does one even follow on from The Shining? The premise has Danny Torrance, all grown up and played excellently by Ewan McGregor, as an alcoholic traumatised by the events of his childhood. He is in contact (of the shining sort) with a little girl who also shines, called Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), and the two of them are interfering, and being interfered by a cult of shining child-murderers led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). The villains attain longevity by inhaling “steam”, a wispy life-essence that exudes from a victim’s pain or death, especially when they’re a shiner themselves.

The plot is very packed from the get-go, and I wouldn’t be surprised if King’s book was very much the same, but he’s got a tendency of getting away in hundreds of pages with what a director can’t manage in just a few hours. Rather than Kubrick’s ambiguous and stripped-back approach, which was, of course, divisive and vague, the pacing in Doctor Sleep is a little too fast for any real tension to build.

Psychic battles, rotting witches in baths, and redneck vampires with glowing eyes who smoke children are all OBVIOUSLY scary, but everything is revealed a little too early on. I’m torn, as there was certainly entertainment in having the mundanity of the villains’ daily lives (Rose’s mall shopping, for example) juxtaposed with their incredibly evil acts, but it was to such a degree that a lot of real fear was compromised. Where The Shining allowed room to breathe, Doctor Sleep seems a little out of breath.

That said, there are plenty of things I thoroughly enjoyed about this movie. Pretty much everyone’s acting is good, cementing the relationship between Danny and Abra nicely, and as the plot develops it does make a fair amount of sense, with few questions remaining.

The only thing you’re left asking is “How did any of this shining malarkey come about in the first place?” but I didn’t feel sore at this being left unanswered; indeed, this adds to the cosmic horror of it all. The gore was great, and I relished seeing the vampiric addicts rush to cadavers to suck up the steam like a nasty flock of vultures.

Generally, it’s a fun watch that goes on a little too long. It’s interesting and brave to film a direct sequel to The Shining, and sometimes it works well. I doubt the writers had much of a choice, as a standalone movie with an entirely different style would have posed its own problems, but as a follow-on Doctor Sleep opens itself up to constant comparison to the majesty of the original.

I’ve no qualms with a slightly trashy, less arty and more fun sequel which retains a certain degree of stylistic continuity, but one can only wish that it’s pacing and atmosphere had been more in keeping with The Shining. That raw, intense fear is lacking, and had it been present, it probably would have kept me awake!

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Louis Scheuer

Louis is a writer, musician, and filmmaker from Warwickshire. He likes long walks, thinking about the universe, and performing with his band Women Gone Missing.