So, you want to make a sequel to “The Shining,” huh?
These days, it seems like you can’t get a project off the ground unless it’s tied to some big franchise or IP. So, is “Doctor Sleep” just a cynical cash-grab trying to mooch off the good name of Stanley Kubrick’s classic?
Not even a little.
Thirty-some years after the horror at The Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is all grown up and sighting shortly on a happy ending. Following in his old man’s footsteps, Danny has become an addict, drinking himself into oblivion in an attempt to close off his “shine,” the psychic ability that allows him to see spirits and communicate telepathically. While attempting to get a grip on his past, Danny encounters a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) with similar powers whom he must protect from a ravenous cult led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who prey on children with special abilities.
If “The Shining” is the story of a father descending into madness, “Doctor Sleep” is a story of a son trying to live with that trauma. Danny and his mother may have escaped The Overlook, but he isn’t safe. The ghosts that crept the halls of the hotel have followed him out into the world, and Danny is left to cope. He’s fallen into alcoholism to dull his “shine” and is no better than a vagabond.
If there was any doubt as to whether or not “Doctor Sleep” would work, look no further than director Mike Flanagan (“The Haunting of Hill House”). Flanagan has shown the ability to concoct a potent blend of supernatural dread mixed with human terror and emotional catharsis within the confine of his spooky features. His style relies on atmosphere and tone rather than shock and awe.
He understands the trick behind delivering a real scare. The fear doesn’t come from the ghosts haunting Danny and his friends; it’s what those ghosts represent wherein lies the horror. Danny is a man facing literal ghosts of his past, and coming to grips with being truly haunted.
Flanagan performs a miracle juggling act of writing a sequel to “The Shining” movie, adapting the “Doctor Sleep” novel, which itself is not related to the original film in any way, while also incorporating elements of Stephen King’s “Shining” novel. How he manages to keep it all together is nothing short of masterful. It’s a perfect synthesis of Kubrick homage, King ambiance and Flanagan filmmaking.
“Doctor Sleep” is not a smash-and-grab, jump-scare-a-minute scary movie. This film is subtle with its frights and subdued in its sense of fear. Flanagan comes at the story, not with a desire to disgust you, but to petrify you. To blend profound sentiment with existential fright to make you realize that sometimes the best way to light the darkness is to shine.