WHAT IT'S ABOUT:
Danny Torrance, 40 years after his terrifying stay at the Overlook Hotel.
Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child, he has fought to find some semblance of peace. But, that peace is shattered when he encounters Abra, a courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the “shine.” Instinctively recognising that Dan shares her power, Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality.
Forming an unlikely alliance, Dan and Abra engage in a brutal life-or-death battle with Rose. Abra’s innocence and fearless embrace of her shine compel Dan to call upon his own powers as never before—at once facing his fears and reawakening the ghosts of the past.
WHAT WE THOUGHT:
It’s been 39 years since The Shining - but it’s still considered one of the best horror films of all time, cementing many tropes in the genre still used today - even if the writer of the source material hates it. Now we finally find out what happened to Danny Torrance since he left that hellish hotel, something that even Stephen King had wondered about, which led to the sequel in 2013.
While Doctor Sleep tries to be a better adaptation to the books, veteran horror director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, The Haunting of Hill House, Before I Wake) finds a way to seamlessly blend the books and Stanley Kubrick’s film into one universe, crafting a fresh tale that will still surprise you, yet pays adequate homage to its predecessor. While Doctor Sleep is more of a psychological thriller than a horror, its strength lies in a fleshed-out villain and the ferocity of an Ewan McGregor performance.
Danny (McGregor) is now an adult, still reliving the trauma of the hotel and the death of his father through alcohol and drugs. He eventually gets his life together, but a young girl (Kyliegh Curan) with miraculous abilities needs his help to fight off an old evil (Rebecca Fergusson) that relishes in feeding off the shining.
This is a film that many fans of Kubrick will approach with trepidation - it comes off as a rehash of a classic and might not work in a modern setting. But coming from someone who loves The Shining, Doctor Sleep is a great piece of work that’s careful not to tarnish its legacy - but still remains a very different beast to its predecessor. It dives into childhood trauma and its tentacles on adulthood, as Danny has a debt that must be repaid with the arrival of a new shiny - or ‘steamy’ - wunderkind. Whenever McGregor is in the lead of a film, you know the script is a goodie, as he’s the kind of actor that is incredibly selective when it comes to heading a film project. Danny finds his healing through mentoring someone like him, but Curan’s character is no damsel in distress - her immense power is rarely diminished for the sake of plot, and she acts on her instincts and moral compass. The actress is quite new to the silver screen, but she has a power all of her own that radiates through her performance, confidant even when playing across from veteran actors.
But the real strength of the film is the villain - Rose the Hat. She isn’t some ethereal, unknown evil that lurks in corners and jumpscares you to death - instead Rose has a history, a clear purpose and an indelible bond with her ‘family’ that almost humanises her despite her inhuman appetites. Rose isn’t the kind of villain to sacrifice those who follow her - she instead does everything in her power to keep them safe - but this doesn’t mean she isn’t scary as hell. She reduces children to food, a horror that’s universal and which they don’t shy away, showing in full terrible detail how they devour their prey. Without it, you might feel a certain sympathy for her character, but she retains her evil creed with the audience through insightful storytelling.
As for the moment when Danny finally returns to the Overlook Hotel, you are suddenly transported back to The Shining, waiting for a jumpscare around each familiar corner as Kubrick’s cinematic style is recreated to almost perfection, yet slightly tarnished. Many characters from the previous film reappear - from ghosts to parents - and if anything it proves how far we’ve come with recreating CGI faces without stopping over in the uncanny valley. As everything comes full circle for Danny - and the audience - you are left with a satisfying closing of a horror chapter almost 40 years in the making.
Doctor Sleep is a beautiful, gut-wrenching film that stands proudly on its own as a sequel - something that’s quite rare in cinema. Flanagan has become a master at horror craft, weaving in more thrill than jumpscares into his work, and this is a prominent feather in his cap. Fans of both King and Kubrick would be happy with this adaptation, proving to the world that it deserved to be made.