Stephen King famously despised Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece of a film, The Shining, (an adaptation of King’s novel of the same name), upon its release in 1980. That film went on to become a classic and is considered one of the best horror films of all time. However, the film, even though it featured Jack Nicholson in the starring role, failed to garner any Oscar nominations, and earned only $45 million during its original theatrical release. (Compare that to the $290 million that Empire Strikes Back, the #1 movie at the box office in 1980, earned that same year).
Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, was written by Stephen King and released in book stores in 2013. The sequel, for the most part, takes place 40 years after The Shining and follows the life of Danny, the son of Jack and Wendy Torrance. (Nicholson and Shelley Duvall played the characters in The Shining).
Ewan McGregor plays Danny Torrance and the title character in Doctor Sleep. He gets the moniker by working in a hospice and being able to be by the sides of those who are dying in a way that no one else could be. He reads their thoughts and consoles them when they are about to fall into the eternal sleep. They bestow the Doctor Sleep title upon him.
Danny is an alcoholic and truly disturbed. As a child he was raised in the Overlook hotel, and he saw and interacted with evil ghosts that lived there. Scattman Crothers in The Shining played Halloran, one of the few spirits that were not evil and showed Danny a way to compartmentalize the evil spirits. Carl Lumbly (Mark Petrie on TV’s Cagney & Lacey) plays Halloran in this film and is a joy to behold.
Leaving Colorado, Danny moves to New Hampshire and takes up residence in a boarding house. The previous tenant that lived in the room he has claimed had a chalkboard wall. On one of the first nights that Danny sleeps in the room writing appears on the wall – from a teenage girl, Abra (Kyleigh Curran), in another part of town who has the same psychic abilities as Danny.
That’s not all. There is evil in New Hampshire too, in the form of Rose The Hat (played exquisitely by Rebecca Ferguson). She is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a poisoned, shiny red apple, if you will. She is beautiful but leads a gang of vampire-like creatures that can only live (and a very, very long time, thousands of years) if they feast on the dying “steam” (more like last breaths) of children. The more the children are tortured, the more pain they endure while dying, the better their breath tastes and the longer those inhaling are sustained). Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) plays the second victim. Perhaps the studio and director, the very capable Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House), went with such a huge name in such a small role because audiences know how great of an actor he is – and that he is acting. The scene where he is tortured and virtually eaten alive is very graphic.
There are a lot of flashbacks, with different actors playing the roles that were made famous in The Shining. Alex Essoe plays Wendy Torrance in Doctor Sleep. They tried to get a Shelley Duvall look alike but ended up with a Sarah Silverman doppelganger instead. Thankfully, those flashbacks are few and far between.
The climax of the film takes place at the fictitious Overlook hotel, the same hotel (The Stanley Hotel in Colorado) used in The Shining.
Doctor Sleep isn’t short, but it doesn’t drag. While it is hardly The Shining – Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Stanley Kubrick achieved a special kind of magic with that movie that very few films can find – it is definitely worth seeing if you are a fan of The Shining. You won’t be disappointed. The audience that I saw the film with applauded at the end. That is something that happens maybe one out of 20 times when it comes to the advance screenings and movie premieres that I go to.
Doctor Sleep Review by Tim Nasson