Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
Director: Mike Flanagan
Running Time: 152 mins
Doctor Sleep is an American film and the sequel to The Shining. Three decades on from the terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance finds himself at a difficult point in his life, only to be called back to the horrors in his memories when he meets a young girl with the same gift as him.
Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a piece of cinematic legend, and logic and emotion would dictate that it surely shouldn’t be reappraised or tampered with in any way. However, Doctor Sleep does the seemingly impossible by providing a satisfying, surprising and exciting follow-up to one of cinema’s most mesmerising horrors. Doctor Sleep still doesn’t hold a candle to Kubrick’s classic, but it’s a really clever and bold follow-up, using Stephen King’s sequel source material to great effect, and blending it well with the cinematic history of The Shining.
So, this isn’t quite a Blade Runner 2049 situation where the sequel amazingly improves on the original, but even just being a satisfying follow-up to a film like The Shining is more than a great achievement for Doctor Sleep.
Now, it may seem in the opening fifteen minutes or so that this sequel is just a retreading of The Shining, going through the same scenes as the last movie while introducing a rather basic look at what happened in the immediate aftermath of the film. However, Doctor Sleep is actually something totally different, and while it uses the memory of The Shining to get you on side in its opening stages, it doesn’t spend too long simply looking back, soon developing its own intriguing and surprising story.
And that’s what I really liked about Doctor Sleep. It may be exciting to finally have a follow-up to The Shining on the big screen, but this is a film of its own making more than anything else. It’s not the claustrophobic psychological horror that The Shining was, but rather a sprawling drama featuring more supernatural horror and thrills, introducing new characters that not only fit well with the lore established previously, but also allow it to stand entirely on its own.
So, don’t just expect more of the same stuff as The Shining here. Of course, the difference between Stanley Kubrick’s inimitable directing style and Mike Flanagan is significant, but Doctor Sleep is vastly different to its predecessor on both a narrative and emotional level, with a more pensive and often tender look at the lives of its main characters – rather than the chaotic fight for survival and sanity that unfolded last time out.
Playing out over a much longer period of time that ranges from the immediate aftermath of The Shining all the way up to the present day, we get an intriguing and complex insight into the life of Danny Torrance as an adult, as well as a new enemy in the form of a band of villains who brutally harvest the souls of those with the gift of the Shining to sustain their life force.
From that alone, it’s clear that Doctor Sleep isn’t quite as focused on sheer psychological distress like The Shining was, however despite some of its more fantastical, supernatural ideas, it manages to bring a palpable darkness and often unsettling tension to proceedings, making it all the more exciting to watch over two and a half thoroughly engaging hours.
And that’s another huge positive from this movie. Coming it at even longer than The Shining, I expected Doctor Sleep to be a painfully dull attempt to recapture Kubrick’s brand of slow, unnerving cinema without any of the same dramatic meat. However, while it isn’t a masterpiece of eerie atmosphere, Doctor Sleep uses its long runtime to great effect, developing well over three distinct but well-executed acts that are just as exciting to watch as they are intriguing.
And finally, Doctor Sleep doesn’t rely too heavily on its relationship with The Shining to keep you intrigued. As a sequel, it regularly references the original story, but all of the callbacks and moments of what seem like fan service feel appropriate and well-earned, building up to an unsettlingly nostalgic final act that brings home even more significance to the events of the previous film.
Overall, I was really surprised by Doctor Sleep. Never would I have expected a sequel to The Shining to come anywhere close to that masterpiece of cinema, and while Kubrick’s thriller is still far and away one of the best films ever made, Doctor Sleep blends appropriate and exciting callbacks to The Shining with a fresh, unique and bold new story that allows it to stand entirely on its own, proving a thoroughly exciting and engrossing watch right the way through, and that’s why I’m giving it a 7.7.