Nearly 40 years after Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining conjured thousands of nightmares, director Mike Flanagan wakes up belated sequel Doctor Sleep, the strongest work of his promising career. Smartly striking a balance between the iconic status of Kubrick’s sound and vision and the Stephen King novel signatures that spread out to connect many people, places and things — as seen, for example, in Andy Muschietti’s sprawling telling of It — Flanagan threads the needle to please more than one group of emotionally-invested followers. The filmmaker also wrote the screenplay, and despite significant changes to the story told in the 2013 novel, he honors the spirit of King’s spirits as well as Kubrick’s restless demons.
King is nothing if not handy with the clever moniker, and the title of the book and the movie refers to the macabre nickname of the now grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), an alcoholic with some daddy issues and serious PTSD. The adventure, however, is shared by two key protagonists. Arguably, the most important character is Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with the same kind of supernatural “shining” gifts as Dan. In Doctor Sleep, the powerful penpals form a bond through psychic communication while a dangerous gang of scream-eating, pain-drinking, vampire-like predators known as the True Knot draws ever closer. In a weird way, Flanagan might have inadvertently made the best X-Men movie to date.
The True Knot is led by seductive child-killer Rose the Hat in Doctor Sleep, and she is played by the wonderful Rebecca Ferguson as a rather spectacular mashup of Kiefer Sutherland’s David from The Lost Boys (1987) and Mathilda May’s relentless Lifeforce essence-drainer — with a dash of Anne Rice and at least a hint of Lena Olin’s fellow bohemian in The Unbearable Lightness of Being. Like all appealing villains, Rose manages to project enough familiar longing for the viewer to be able to relate to her desire to live, even if her evil means can’t be condoned. Ferguson just about walks off with the whole works.
King’s longtime disdain for Kubrick’s brilliant film is the stuff of horror movie legend, and a number of Doctor Sleep pieces have already outlined the careful manner in which Flanagan honors both entities (as well as the less essential, three-episode 1997 ABC miniseries). Cinematically speaking, Kubrick’s genius and influence persist. Rodney Ascher’s documentary Room 237 is must-watch, film geek, conspiracy theory territory. In a big red valentine from Steven Spielberg, Ready Player One swapped out the Blade Runner sim of the novel for a thrilling Overlook Hotel dark ride. And just this year, the Pixar team squeezed several references into, of all things, Toy Story 4.
Flanagan always does his homework, and the cinematic return to the scariest hotel in Colorado is a wonderland of reconstruction in Doctor Sleep. When Rose gazes upon those gushing elevator doors, her face lights up with awe, a smile curling her lips. Many viewers will share that look. Hallorann, Wendy, Jack, the Grady twins and many more remind why it’s so hard to quit roaming those halls — Danny Lloyd even makes a cameo appearance — and why Flanagan reconfigured King canon to make his version. That Doctor Sleep doesn’t in any way detract from or diminish the 1980 film is a genuine compliment.
Greg Carlson (@gcarlson1972) is an associate professor of communication studies and the director of the interdisciplinary film studies minor program at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. He is also the film editor of the High Plains Reader, where his writing has appeared since 1997.