40 years later and it's finally time to head back to the Overlook Hotel to continue the story seen in Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's The Shining, creating one of the most iconic horror films in cinematic history. King finished the story laid out in his novel through the Doctor Sleep continuation, a title which is being brought to theaters next month. Following up the iconic Kubrick work, Doctor Sleep is burdened with building on a previous film's story while also being bound to King's work in the novel — something Kubrick disregarded heavily with his film but writer/director Mike Flanagan found an impressive way to balance.
Any characters from The Shining are recast in Doctor Sleep, both in flashback form and in the present-day story. Ewan McGregor checks in to take over for the role of Dan Torrance, the once-little boy with the ability to "shine" who is all grown up, but he is now cursed with something different. Alcoholism has changed him and he has been suppressing his special ability to shine. When Cliff Curtis steps in as Billy, Doctor Sleep earns a necessary bit of heart (and direction) in the relationship between his Billy and McGregor’s Danny. Pair that with sequences in which Dan himself becomes "Doctor Sleep" for dying hospital patients and the film has plenty of emotion from its main character — it just moves a little slowly.
Doctor Sleep's first hour will be a trying time for audiences unfamiliar with the novel or — even more so — The Shining. For fans of one or the other, the pacing won’t be an issue as they're familiar with the destination. Others are left wondering where the film is headed or why it exists. It’s a slow burn like The Shining but it culminates like a boulder rolling downhill, gaining momentum and speed as it goes, resulting in a grand finale which is worth the wait.
Rebecca Ferguson checks in for the baddie role as Rose the Hat. The character is a daunting evil force who goes so far that audiences' stomachs might turn as an intense act of violence is carried out on screen. One scene, in particular, will be a lot for some audiences as it pushes the tones of violence and terror, but for the horror junkie looking for a thrill, it will deliver on all counts. For those fans of the novel, it may be especially rewarding, but equally shocking.
Meanwhile, Kyleigh Curran steps up as Abra, a young girl with the same ability to shine as McGregor’s Dan. Curran’s performance is nothing short of impressive, never missing an enthusiastic beat alongside veterans like McGregor and Ferguson. Flanagan tosses her into high moments ranging from subtle timing to high-intensity story beats, meeting each of the requirements with ease and enthusiasm.
The film could have benefited from a pair of scissors being taken to some of its run time or a bit more of an engaging opening hour. Still, these things don't prevent Doctor Sleep from sticking the landing in a beautifully terrifying form. The third act is where the film especially shines, pitting McGregor, Curran, and Ferguson into joint efforts and paying tremendous homage to a film that changed the genre. Perhaps most importantly, Flanagan managed to make a really good movie that is both loyal to Kubrick's film but will also satisfy King in its faithfulness to his novel.
Fans of The Shining are going to appreciate Doctor Sleep more than anyone else, especially as the film's third act arrives in the remains of the Overlook Hotel and is loaded with Easter eggs and callbacks. A couple of moments might make or break the movie for some viewers, leaving no middle ground, late in the film, but as a means to stay spoiler-free, we suggest you see it for yourself and decide.
Rating: 4 out of 5
Doctor Sleep lands in theaters on November 8th.