Doctor Sleep is based on the 2013 novel by Stephen King, which is a sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining. Screenwriter and director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush) has adapted Doctor Sleep in a way that expands on what Stanley Kubrick did with The Shining.
I have not read The Shining or Doctor Sleep and I haven’t seen The Shining TV miniseries from 1997, but I am a fan of Stanley Kubrick’s work despite his pretentious, self-indulgent, and excessive reputation. It’s intriguing that it took nearly 40 years to get a proper sequel to The Shining and Doctor Sleep absolutely has no right to be as good as it is.
In 1980, Danny and his mother Wendy retreat to Florida to escape what transpired during The Shining. Danny is still tormented by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel. He often speaks to Dick Hallorann, the chef from the hotel who taught Danny how to use The Shining, despite Dick being dead. Dick teaches Danny how to lock the ghosts away in the deepest pockets of his mind and life becomes somewhat tolerable for Danny.
At the same time, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) feeds on gifted children who show potential in early signs of The Shining. These children release a steam as they die that Rose feasts on, which slows her aging. Rose leads the True Knot, a semi-eternal group that also relies on steam to survive. The True Knot use their special abilities (Rose can make people tell the truth, Snakebite Andi can telepathically manipulate individuals, etc.) to track down these special kids from all over and in 1980 steam is something that is easy to come across.
By 2011, the True Knot has become weak and underfed as steam is harder to come by. Rose has a reserve of steam in canisters that is only tapped into in emergency situations. Danny, now an adult who goes by Dan (portrayed by Ewan McGregor), is in New Jersey and resorts to alcohol, drugs, and women to keep The Shining at bay. He finds a small town to start over in and joins AA. Dan spends the next eight years cleaning himself up and living a normal life with a job, a roof over his head, and no ghosts to carry on conversations with.
In 2019, the True Knot discover a child with the most potential they’ve ever come across and a sumptuous quality and extensive quantity of steam the likes of which have never been feasted upon. Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) is more powerful than any individual the True Knot has ever come across. Although Dan is reluctant at first, he takes it upon himself to help keep Abra safe while using tricks to stop Rose once and for all.
The one misstep that Doctor Sleep has going into it is that its duration may seem daunting. At just over 150-minutes in length, Doctor Sleep is a slow burn that is definitely deliberate. It is a film that is in no rush to get its storytelling across and that will make or break what you think of it overall. Its intricate pacing allows for thrilling precision, which results in rich character development you wouldn’t have with a shorter film and some really unique concepts that are fleshed out thoroughly because they’re allowed to unfold properly.
The True Knot is an incredibly fascinating cinematic group of villains. On one hand, they’re following this supernatural version of the food chain and are simply doing whatever necessary to survive as an almost-ageless species; they feel like a refreshing take on vampires.
Personally speaking, Rebecca Ferguson has been fine as an actress in other roles but she’s never really been all that memorable. Rose the Hat is a totally different monster. Ferguson is suddenly mischievous, hypnotic, and sinister that seems to effortlessly be achieved whenever Rose says, “Well, hello there.”
The horror film genre seems to suffer more than other genres from rehashing familiar material over and over again, but Stephen King has somehow made steam spine-tingling and Mike Flanagan has figured out how to properly make that terrifying transition from the page to the screen.
Jacob Tremblay (Good Boys, Predator) has a role in the film that is literally the definition of short and sweet. His sequence seems to tear at your soul and shriek at your heartstrings. Tremblay probably has less than ten minutes of screen time, but he will also end up being of the most memorable aspect of the film.
The great thing about Doctor Sleep is that it shows very little gore, especially for an R-rated horror film. But Mike Flanagan utilizes that old school horror technique of less being more while your imagination collides with the events being portrayed in the film for an experience that titillates and satisfies the drooling horror hound inside all of us.
Doctor Sleep is about everything coming full circle for Dan Torrance. He has been running away for so long that Doctor Sleep is the result of him finally facing everything from his past. Dan takes Abra under his wing and tutors her until he knows she’s comfortable with her abilities. Abra is strong from the start, but Dan helps her tweak what she already knows for the better.
Kyliegh Curran is exceptional as Abra. The women in Doctor Sleep are wounded at times in the film, represent opposing sides, and often come face-to-face with their impending demise, but they never come off as weak or helpless. Rose is an incredibly dominant villain whose presence is felt from the beginning of the film to the very end. Abra is often emotional and a little naïve at times because of her age, but she is also excited to learn and utilize the tricks that she knows. She accepts what she is and embraces it to overcome what is most evil in her world.
Doctor Sleep is a one-of-a-kind sequel that is so good it makes the original film better. It may be slow-moving, but its meticulous storytelling flourishes because of it. Rebecca Ferguson is one of the coolest villains we’ve seen in a film this year as Doctor Sleep pounds on your psyche with ease. Live long, eat well, and embrace your demons; Doctor Sleep is the satisfying film every horror sequel should set out to be.
- Features the most unique film villain(s) of the year.
- Caters to both fans of the source material and the original film.
- The entire cast is fantastic.
- Its length and pace may make some weary.
- Requires at least some knowledge of what transpired in the original film/novel.