Doctor Sleep (dir. Mike Flanagan, 2019) – Years after surviving the horrors of the Overlook Hotel, Dan Torrance meets another young child with the Shine, who draws the attention of the dangerous True Knot.
Welcome to the Overlook Hotel, the impeccable choice lodging that has warmly welcomed guests for decades and counting. Of its rich history, perhaps the most well-known of its stories was the stint with infamous caretaker Jack Torrance, whose dedication to his morals and ethical principles had certain left its mark.
Thirty years has passed since his sudden descent to madness. What had happened to the hotel and his surviving family? Stephen King has answers, though his story had gone on from a different place. Hotel Overlook had after all been destroyed in King’s novel, yet left intact in Stanley Kubrick’s film.
Continuity aside, King had not been shy about renouncing the adaptation. How then does one connect the writer’s vision with the filmmaker’s visual legacy? Director Mike Flanagan takes on the daunting task of putting the sequel to screen, winning over the one man whom Kubrick once failed to please.
Doctor Sleep re-introduces an older Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), who has turned to alcoholism to cope with his trauma and his father’s death. He moves to a new town for a new life, gradually earning his sobriety with the support of Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) and using his Shine to comfort the dying as a hospice worker.
But his past soon catches up with him. A young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) discovers her very own Shine and telepathically makes contact with Dan. She tells him about the True Knot, who feeds on children with the Shine for sustenance, unknowingly drawing their fatal attention. Dan is forced to confront what he had been running from, in order to protect Abra from the vicious tribe leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).
Doctor Sleep is not the same brooding horror that had etched genuine fear into our childhoods. Its different brand of terror shares a closer DNA with The Dark Tower, conjuring dread out of dark fantasy magic and violent sadism. This brutality is not just cemented by Rose herself. Rather, it is young leaguer Bradley Trevor played by Jacob Tremblay, whose brief but shocking appearance lingers long after his final screams.
He is not the only young performer who shone. Kyliegh Curran as Abra radiates charm in her shrewdness and rises to her leading role with ease. Her charisma makes it easy to invest emotionally in her heartfelt connection with Dan, while accepting Doctor Sleep as a standalone chapter, far from its predecessor’s shadow.
The comparisons are however inescapable. The film eventually revisits familiar furnishings of elegant burgundy and serene shades of green. Classic sequences play out with a different cast, albeit sans the claustrophobic atmosphere that Kubrick had so adeptly crafted. Behind every door of The Shining had been a perfect picture of distinctive vibrancy, the symmetry captivating as much as it unsettled. In Doctor Sleep, the contrasting hollowness is striking.
Even so, recapturing what Stanley Kubrick had accomplished was beside the point. Doctor Sleep has chosen to tell a very different story and told it well. In Dan’s confrontation with the True Knot, he too confronts his past, sparking meditations on the ripple effects of abuse and its consequent addictions. This emotive aspect alone justified this sequel’s existence, providing closure where there had only been despair before.
Dealing with heavy themes of trauma and recovery in Dan’s latter years, Doctor Sleep makes the case for its own existence without falling into pastiche.