Not many would have walked away from a viewing of Stanley Kubrick’s classic, The Shining, wanting to find out more about what happens to the little boy in the movie. Though the now immensely iconic scene of young Danny Torrance riding around the hotel on his tricycle before encountering a pair of ghostly twins is almost synonymous with The Shining, as is the scene of a wave of blood filling up the halls of the Overlook Hotel, the young boy’s presence in the film was not that engaging especially when compared to his father, Jack Torrance.
But an older, adult Danny Torrance is exactly who the movie Doctor Sleep wants you to care about and a spin-off and sequels go, it actually succeeds in doing so. The sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining is in-depth in its characterisations and handles the topic of alcoholism and childhood trauma with incredible finesse. Barring a lack-lustre third act, Doctor Sleep is truly impressive in many ways and is another great addition to director Mike Flanagan’s filmography, which includes Gerald’s Game, Oculus, and the Netflix original The Haunting of Hill House.
Fan favourite Ewan McGregor stars as Danny who, as an adult with a scraggly beard, is heavily traumatised by the events from his childhood and becomes a melancholic alcoholic (much like his father) who regularly drinks and engages in bar fights, to suppress his Shining. A special psychic ability that lets those with the ability to communicate with others telepathically and gives its users the ability to see into the past and the future.
As we have seen from Stephen King’s other horror movie, It: Chapter 2, children who suffer from childhood trauma (especially of the supernatural kind) more often than not do not grow up to be mentally-healthy, well-rounded members of society. Thus it is no wonder that Danny ended up the way he did. McGregor’s portrayal of a mentally exhausted man who carries a deep bone of sadness within him is just incredibly sympathetic.
In an attempt to try and find a better life for himself, Danny soon finds himself in Frazier, New Hampshire, there we see him join an Alcoholics Anonymous and lands a job at a hospice where Danny finds that he’s able to use his Shining to help ease the pain of the hospice’s dying patients. Along the way, Danny or Dan as he is known as now, slowly becomes friends with Abra (played by Kyllegh Curran) and the pair connect through the Shining.
A huge portion of the film is dedicated to showing Danny living his new life, fleshing out his character more. We see him struggle to get better as he overcomes his alcoholism and slowly builds a friendship with Abra. All of these are interspersed with scenes of the True Knot, a cult who hunt kids with hints of Shine in them to kill and capture their ‘steam’ which they then feed on to keep them alive. The True Knots are not immortal by any means, and need to keep feeding on the life essence of kids with Shining in them to stay alive and when they kill, it is not quick and painless.
Oh no, the group does everything to incite fear and pain as it is what cleanses the steam and makes it tastier. The True Knot is led by the terrifyingly seductive Rose the Hat, perfectly portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson (Missions Impossible-Fallout, The Greatest Showman), who gives a surprising amount of depth and vulnerability to a character that goes around killing unsuspecting young kids.
A particularly horrific and visceral scene involves the gruesome murder of a talented young baseball player at the hands of the True Knot, and it is then that we see the monsters hidden beneath these group of people who look so human – how they are willing to ritualistically torture and murder a young kid all so they can live (almost) forever. The scene was magnificently played by young Jacob Tremblay whose painful cries and pleas for mercy really serve to tug at the audience’s heartstrings even though we all know his death is inevitable. What’s even more impressive is that it was revealed in an interview that Ferguson was so affected by Tremblay’s acting, that she found herself in tears at his cries.
As with most movies, the climax of the film involves a showdown between the protagonists of the film and the big bad, which in this case is Danny and Abra, against Rose the Hat respectively. However, the climax is also where the movie falters a little. We are brought back to the Overlook Hotel which by this time has been long abandoned, and has been left to rot. Fans of The Shining might appreciate the numerous fan service scenes which recycle iconic visuals from Kubrick’s film for the sake of nostalgia. Numerous scenes were also shot in a way to mirror Kubrick’s The Shining except Flanagan is no Kubrick and some scenes end up not sticking the landing.
The way Rose the Hat was taken down also felt like it came too easily and could maybe have been handled much differently. For a man that struggled with the memory of his father and his actions in the Overlook Hotel his entire life, Danny’s whole character arc could have had a better ending if Jack Torrance played a bigger role in the ending aside from that one scene before the final battle. Though not horrible by any shot, the way the third act really left us wanting and one couldn’t help but feel that it could have been so much better.
That said, Doctor Sleep is about as good a sequel to The Shining as we’ll get and Flanagan does do a good job at adapting the source material into a film. Some might have an issue with the pacing of the movie, such as in the first act where nothing much happens but it serves to help us get to know the characters more, get us invested in their story arcs so that we can’t help but root for them by the end of the movie. The movie is also not littered with jump scares as with most conventional horror movies nowadays but it does a different kind of horror, a more realistic kind of horror in that it explores how devastating the effects of childhood trauma can be and how long and deeply it can haunt a person.
Though not a masterpiece, Doctor Sleep does shine brightly as a Stephen King adaptation, and in time we can definitely see it being a horror classic in its own right, and not simply a sequel to The Shining.
GEEK REVIEW SCORE
A worthy sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Doctor Sleep does a good job tackling the issue of childhood trauma and alcoholism whilst masterfully handling its more supernatural side as well. Though its third act is a little lacking, Doctor Sleep still shines bright as a Stephen King adaptation.
Story - 7/10
Direction - 7/10
Characterisation - 8.5/10
Geek Satisfaction - 7.5/10