When these 30-40 year later sequels happen with intelligence by filmmakers who understand the original and how to continue the stories in new ways, good things can happen. Some prime early examples could be The Hustler’s sequel The Color of Money and Scenes from a Marriage’s sequel Saraband. Well, in a combination of hate and love we get Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining nearly forty years later, and I am quite pleased.
If there was one event meant to screw up someone’s life forever, it would be your father going mad, trying to kill you and your mother, all while ghosts tried to harm you in a haunted hotel in the middle of a blizzard in the middle of nowhere, and that’s exactly what happened to Danny Torrance. Thirty years later, he’s a mess of a man, finding the only way to deal with his psychic powers that played a part in the whole affair is to drown them with drink. Once he reaches rock bottom, he finds himself in a small town in New Hampshire where a good local named Billy helps him get back on his feet and sober.
What makes this opening so fascinating for Danny is the parallel treatment of the shining ability Danny has and is trying to forget about as well as the trauma of that seminal event of his youth. This is where the thematic core of the movie resides. The piece of genre storytelling (the psychic ability) is a stand in for the human emotion (trauma), and the two mesh exceedingly well.
On the other side of that theme is Rose the Hat and her gang, True Knot, who eat the shine of those they find in order to extend their own lives. There are hints that some of Rose’s companions have lived for thousands of years doing this. Instead of standing to face their mortality, they constantly roam, looking for those with gifts to consume. Where Danny ends up finding ways to face the horrors of his past in order to live fully, Rose and True Knot consume the shine of others in order to simply continue existing. They have no real lives other than their search for the next bit of smoke that will give them some few more months of life.
Caught between them is Abra, a young girl with extremely impression powers. She and Danny made a connection without ever meeting once Danny turned away from drink and let the shine back into his life in some limited way. Abra also makes a connection with Rose, but the connections are of strikingly different varieties. With Danny, Abra develops a familial and kind relationship where Danny helps Abra navigate her powers and the dangers that Rose the Hat represent. And Rose does represent a danger. When she first makes a connection with Abra, as Abra psychically witnesses Rose’s murder of an 11 year old boy 1500 miles away, Rose knows that Abra is the whale of a catch. She will do anything to get Abra and her life force. It’s the sort of well that Rose could mine for a very long time.
So begins the struggle between the man, the woman, and the girl between. The chase extends from New Hampshire to Iowa back to New Hampshire to New York and finally to Colorado, a rather constant travelogue that bugged me ever so slightly. The parties get whittled down to just our core three characters before Danny decides that the final confrontation has to happen at the Overlook Hotel ruins.
The very first scene of the movie introduces an idea, presented by a ghostly Mr. Hallorann to a young Danny Torrance, of trapping the ghosts that haunt Danny into mental boxes. By the time we meet him as an adult, he’s trapped many of these ghosts who have followed him from the Overlook, and it’s obvious that these boxes are going to open at some point. I have to say that I loved their use in the film. They represent Danny’s trauma, and he uses them to fight Rose the Hat. It’s a great and intelligent use of imagery.
The whole final half hour or so is set in the Overlook, and it is so much more than mere fan service. I do think the reasoning for actually going feels a little thin, but once there, it’s tightly plotted and contains both genre thrills and a fantastic scene between the adult Dan and the ghost of Jack, his father. Jack takes the place of Lloyd the bartender, and instead of merely offering Danny a drink, as Lloyd had done with Jack, this new Lloyd practically forces it upon Danny. However, Danny is too strong, having grown too strong, and the Overlook turns on him.
The story is really Danny’s and Ewan McGregor plays him well. He starts the film damaged and rather awful while full of self-hatred, but he becomes fatherly to Abra over time. Kyleigh Curran is quite good as Abra as well, but, in terms of acting, it’s Rebecca Ferguson who steals the show as Rose the Hate. She is fantastically cold, smart, driven, and evil. She’s wildly watchable.
There are some bits that bugged me, though. The travelogue irritated me, and I can’t give a great reason for that, but it’s still there. I also feel like this is a sequel that leans really heavily on its predecessor to the point that if you don’t know The Shining pretty well, there is a significant chunk of the film (most of the ending) that may end up falling kind of flat. It may not be a huge ask of the audience to be familiar with one of the most famous and iconic horror movies ever made, but I do wish it hadn’t needed to rely on The Shining quite so much.
Other than that, though, the movie’s a very good time. It’s smartly written, well structured, looks quite good (though over-relies on close ups, to be honest), and quite well acted (especially from Ferguson). While it may play more as a drama than a horror movie for most of its runtime, Doctor Sleep works really well.
Netflix Rating: 5/5
Quality Rating: 3.5/4