This review contains slight spoilers!
Stanley Kubrick‘s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King‘s The Shining is considered to be within the pantheon of horror films. Much of its imagery and iconography still holds a place within the nightmares of generations past and present. Cabin fever can inhibit a unique response in people; whether it be a father’s battle with alcoholism and slow descent into madness, a child discovering a gift and not understanding it, and a mother trying to make sense of it all. As this family of three is being torn apart, there’s also the danger of The Overlook Hotel and the ghastly secrets it withholds.
Director Mike Flanagan was presented with acknowledging the story’s past while progressing it into the future. In looking at Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House, that story was a perfect setup for what was to come. It’s a series that is built around family trauma, addictions, and ghosts (both literally and internally). 2019’s Doctor Sleep explores generational wounds and why confronting your past is one of the necessary ways that you can save the future. The beauty of Doctor Sleep lies in the balance of paying a correct homage to Kubrick’s The Shining with continuing a story centered on coming face to face with your afflictions and accepting your gifts.
We meet a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) in a bad way. Dejected, broken, and held within a vicious cycle of alcoholism much like his father. Operating within his blind spot is The True Knot, a gang of parasitic nomads that feed on ‘the shine’ of children led by the charismatic Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Flanagan does not shy away from showing the dangers that this group truly presents to this world. There is a scene the collective all feeds on the essence of a little kid, and it’s horrifying that they have no qualms on whom they pounce upon.
The irony lies in that the younger you are, the stronger the shine. The True Knot have a warped sense of community built upon their shared addictions and time. The less you feed, the closer you are to death. While The True Knot crave, feed, and move on, Danny suppresses his gift – almost causing an internal rot within himself. It’s only when he confronts the wounds of his past, that he becomes better. Like Dick Halloran’s character in The Shining, it was time for Danny to help someone else.
A beam of confused optimism shines through the eyes of Abra (Kyliegh Curran). She personifies the endless possibilities of The Shine and ultimately helps aid Danny on the road back to owning his gift. Even when her character is presented with peril as using the shine serves as a radar for The True Knot, she stands firm within it – to where it even shakes Rose with how powerful she can be. There’s a theme within this film of being your authentic self – even when it’s not necessarily safe to do so. You could save a life when doing so, and it could even be your own.
Flanagan, along with the brilliant performances within the movie and familiar musical score of The Newton Brothers transports us back into a world that seems familiar. It’s not in the fashion that romanticizes the first film, but as a progressive homage to the story itself. The Overlook Hotel, in seeing it and exploring it, shows it to be a living entity on its own. It feels like revisiting an old friend (albeit a very haunted one). Cinematographer Michael Fimognari recaptures classic shots from the first film, not as a cheap retelling, but to further enrich and accent the visual style Doctor Sleep displays. The movie has action, drama, and allows scenes space to play out at a pace to fully contextualize the story it’s telling.
In totality, Doctor Sleep is an enjoyable adjunct to one of Stephen King’s beloved stories. An exposé of the ghosts that follow us into adulthood, the things and memories we suppress inside us, and the long road back to redemption to save others. It both honors the previous foundation and moves it in a way that brings brevity to one of horror’s enduring cinematic legacies.