To call Doctor Sleep a direct sequel for Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining might somehow be unfair. Based on Stephen King’s 2013 novel of the same title—which indeed is a sequel, this silver-screen adaptation takes the visual references from Kubrick’s film. Here’s the complication. King openly sounds his disagreement upon Kubrick’s adaptation, citing their contrasting beliefs on some characters’ motivation to be the source. However, King also approves the harrowing imagery the director had created1. Writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan (one of the finest working horror-directors for Oculus, Hush, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald’s Game, The Haunting of Hill House) takes those complications as an advantage; hence, his excellent, blockbuster-y adaptation.
Doctor Sleep sets in the same cinematic universe as Kubrick’s Shining following up with a distant story about Danny Torrance, who survived The Overlook mayhem and moved to Florida. While nostalgic-laden with lots of nods and Easter Eggs to the 1980 film, Flanagan’s movie mostly stands alone on its own merits. Departing smoothly from the celebrated (and most parodied and referenced) horror legacy, Flanagan crafts a fantasy-horror blockbuster that is highly satisfying. It’s safe to say that Sleep is like “Aliens to The Shining‘s Alien.”2
Flanagan builds this horror foray using King’s foundation while adorns it with Kubrick’s visual penchant. Basically, it’s mediating the two conflicting credos with Flanagan’s own flair. The director will recreate some scenes from Kubrick’s film quite identically but at the same time, quite radically in using them to craft his own horror bravura.
Shining‘s claustrophobic atmosphere is a thing from the past and Sleep does not attempt to model it that way. It’s, after all, a multi-setting story that cleverly uses the ‘shining’ elements from the original source to motor the story. Flanagan’s depiction of the ‘shining’ is gorgeous, essential, while at the same time harrowing in gluing the multi-arc story. The director knows certainly that outmatching Kubrick’s surreal, atmospheric work is not an option; therefore, he focuses on creating a multi-layered blend of horror, fantasy, and adventure that sees several pivotal characters get tangled in a cat-and-mouse drama.
A lot of things happen in the 151-minute story. We’ve seen Danny learns to understand his shining from Dick Halloran (portrayed by Scatman Crothers in The Shining; Carl Lumbly) and begins to get used to it. The grown-up Danny (portrayed by Ewan McGregor), however, is a different kind of person; he’s a broke, alcoholic loser who can see dead people. When he attempts to start fresh, a girl called Abra (Kyliegh Curran) shines to communicate with him. At the same time, a wicked society called True Knot led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) crosses over their paths while they prey on kids who shine. There are, at least, three arcs and three timelines in Doctor Sleep and you’ll be excused if you somehow get lost in between.
Flanagan, however, comfortably seams the three stories into a parallel unison using his flair for horror spectacles. Faithful to the soul of King’s novel, the writer-director explores Danny’s alcoholism as a nod to the true nature of Jack Torrance’s descent into madness in The Shining; something that Kubrick chose not to have in his movie. The depiction of True Knot draws another inspiration from Pennywise of Stephen King’s It, who likes to instill fears before preying on the victims. With many elements around, Flanagan quite confidently moves the story forward smoothly, even when the finale—which works as a respectful homage—feels lackluster given the thorough buildups.
Those expecting a direct Kubrickian sequel to The Shining will have to get loosened up immediately. Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep is not a religious follow-up. It’s an expansion overbearing expanded theme with bigger stakes. Flanagan makes it bigger, grittier, and tougher in scale; but, it will never get as surreal and as enigmatic as how Kubrick’s only horror venture is perceived. Doctor Sleep is surprisingly a highly satisfying horror blockbuster that departs eloquently from the several legacies of The Shining at once. At the same time, it cements Mike Flanagan’s reputation as the finest working horror blockbuster maker of this era.
1 “Kubrick FAQ – The Shining”. Visual-memory.co.uk. Archived from the original on April 20, 2012. Retrieved June 6, 2012.
2 AdiWriter (2019, November 7). “In time, Doctor Sleep might grow to be Aliens to The Shining’s Alien. Right now, it’s a mightily satisfying chapter of Stephen King’s imagination, mold by Flanagan’s genius. *btw, if you still have the chance to see The Shining before this, do it. It’ll reward you in spades.” [Twitter Post]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/AdiWriter/status/1192085567237812225