Doctor Sleep – Review

Doctor Sleep is the perfect combination of Kubrick and King as it honors the source material while pushing the legacy forward.

Based on the 2013 novel of the same name, Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining, arguably the greatest horror film ever made. The film follows Danny Torrance, played by Ewan McGregor several decades after the events of The Shining as he wrestles with demons both in and out of his head. The film also welcomes Rebecca Ferguson and Kyleigh Curran in lead roles as they give the film a new life and King’s world a fresh feel. Doctor Sleep comes in with heavy expectations from fans and audiences. After all, how can you follow up on one of cinema’s greatest achievements and the most iconic director? Simply put, you honor the past while embracing a new beginning. Director Mike Flanagan does both of these things excellently with Doctor Sleep.

A gripping, chilling ode to Kubrick’s The Shining, the film does not hold back in its reverence of its source material. Everything from the cinematography shot structure, set design and characters mirror that of the iconic film. Flanagan made his intentions clear from the opening shot that his goal was to honor Kubrick’s work in every way. That is not to say there weren’t some differences that Flanagan brought to the table, mainly doubling down on Stephen King’s thematic style. Where Kubrick’s The Shining was very much rooted in psychological horror with beats of supernatural horror organically sprouting from it, Doctor Sleep dives deeper into the supernatural, with most of its horror elements being direct copy/paste of what The Shining originally did. Lore building, world development and unpacking the mysteries that The Shining left open to interpretation, Doctor Sleep aims to answer questions while posing new ones for the audience. Doctor Sleep takes a deeper look at “the shining”, an ability present in children and a few adults to gibe them telepathic abilities. This enables them to read minds and experience clairvoyance. A group of cultists calling themselves The True Knot prey on these special individuals and pose as the primary antagonists for the film.

Ewan McGregor perfectly fits into the Kubrick aesthetic and plays a believable and broken Danny, unable to move on from the events he suffered through as a child. The lingering effects of the hotel and father have driven the character into a dark place. Due to the film’s lengthy runtime, adequate character development is given to Danny as audiences are eased back into Stephen King’s world. An absolute show-stealer for the film was Rebecca Ferguson’s performance. Each scene she was in felt like a bolt of energy for the audience. In some ways, her character felt the least Kubrick and the most King at the same time, giving the film a new life every time the story would slow down. The scenes she shares with Ewan McGregor take the film to its highest heights and is the perfect mix of new energy and fan service.

Of course, you can’t have a sequel to The Shining without references to the original and Doctor Sleep does not hold back with them. Every single iconic character from The Shining has their moment in Doctor Sleep. This allows fans of the book and film to feel immediately excited and almost in joy. Unfortunately, the one thing these scenes don’t do is frighten. What were once bone-chilling horrific scenes and characters in Kubrick’s legendary film are now “remember X and Y?” While this does not hurt the film and the core message sweeps through perfectly, it does take away a substantial amount of horror elements. Still, the movie makes up for traditional horror by adding in some horrific moments of violence. One particular scene was frightening, to say the least, and will leave audiences with chills due to the realistic emotions at hand. 

Overall, Doctor Sleep is one of the best movies of the year. The film is a worthy successor to The Shining, and honors both Kubrick and King equally as it delivers a story that will satisfy film and book lovers alike.  Director Mike Flanagan brings together the perfect mix of horror and thriller as he makes sure to touch all of Kubrick’s bases without being completely lost in them. The film is the perfect sequel to a film that never actually needed one. The iconic nature of The Shining constantly looms over the film, to the point where the third act almost feels like a blockbuster as much as it does a horror film. Led by Ewan McGregor’s spectacular performance and Rebecca Ferguson’s chilling role, Doctor Sleep immediately solidifies itself as one of the best horror films of the decade.