Nearly 40 years after viewers first visited the Overlook Hotel on the big screen, it’s time to head back – but things are quite different this time around.
In 2013, Stephen King finally decided to follow up his massively popular 1977 novel, “The Shining,” with “Doctor Sleep,” a long overdue sequel. After that, the world knew it was only a matter of time until the film adaptation hit theaters, and now “Doctor Sleep” has arrived as King’s third film this year.
“The Shining” quickly became a horror masterpiece, being hailed as one of the greatest films the genre had ever seen, thanks in large part to Jack Nicholson’s terrifying portrayal of Jack Torrance. So, to say “Doctor Sleep” has a lot to live up to would be an understatement. While it doesn’t channel the same horrors as its predecessor once did, “Doctor Sleep” provides an intriguing exploration of the lore at the heart of the series.
Years after spending a year of his traumatic childhood at the Overlook Hotel, a now grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) finds himself struggling with addiction, just like his father once did. Driven to alcohol by the ghosts that still haunt him, Danny’s life is in disarray, until he moves to New Hampshire and gets clean. Without the alcohol dulling his magical “shine,” Danny’s telepathic abilities return and he connects with a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). Abra’s shine shows powers even Danny hasn’t seen before, which makes her the next target for the evil Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her traveling tribe, The True Knot.
Rose and The True Knot are semi-immortal monsters who feed on the “steam” emitted from children who shine once they die. As long as they have enough steam, they’ll continue living forever, and the best steam comes from pain and fear. In order to satiate their needs, Rose and The True Knot scour the country looking for children who shine, torturing them to death until their steam is ready to be consumed.
Together, Danny and Abra must figure out how to put an end to Rose’s murder spree, and the only way it can be done is by once again returning to the Overlook.
Even though “Doctor Sleep” is technically a sequel to “The Shining,” it feels more like a distant relative than a direct continuation. Sure, the protagonist remains the same across both films, but their entirely different in style and feel. Where “The Shining” is full of suspense and terror, “Doctor Sleep” settles for a more eerie tone, immersing audiences in the mythology behind what “the shine” really is, rather than bombarding them with pure horror. At times, the focus on the supernatural makes it feel as if “Doctor Sleep” could be it’s own standalone film, and it might even have functioned better that way, but the ultimate return to the Overlook reinforces the connection to the film’s predecessor.
McGregor’s portrayal of the adult version of Danny is excellent, as he struggles to face his demons both inside and out, but Ferguson is the one who steals the show. Her creepy yet charming presence is absolutely magnetic, immediately making herself the center of every scene. She’s simultaneously creepy, charismatic and falsely endearing – and she’s able to trick both the children and the audience members into thinking that maybe she’s not that dangerous after all. Ferguson alone justifies the decision to return to the Overlook.
As captivating as Ferguson and Co. may be, the film still comes in at a whopping 152 minutes. Instead of a traditional three act structure, it feels almost as if “Doctor Sleep” follows a four act format with double the time spent on the set up. Part of this is certainly necessary as director Mike Flanagan pays homage to and recaps “The Shining,” introduces Rose and her cult, revisits Danny as an adult, and establishes the connection between him and Abra, but it could be trimmed by about 15 minutes and be equally, if not more, effective.
“Doctor Sleep” won’t connect with everyone, as some viewers may find themselves suffering from King fatigue and others won’t appreciate its differences from “The Shining,” but for those willing to give it a chance, they’ll find it’s well worth the trip back to the Overlook Hotel.
Star Rating: 3.5 out of 5
Zach Goins is a member of the North Carolina Film Critics Association based in Raleigh, N.C. Zach co-founded Inside The Film Room in 2018 and serves as Editor-in-Chief of the website and co-host of the podcast. Zach also serves as a film critic for CLTure.org.