If somebody told me to imagine what a sequel to The Shining would look like, chances are it would look nothing like Doctor Sleep. After all, I can’t recall a scene from The Shining in which vampires are explicitly mentioned, much nonetheless portrayed breathing in somebody’s ‘steam’ for their own personal use (yes, Doctor Sleep is very weird). While unexpected, that’s ultimately part of what makes this such a great sequel: it forges its own story and unique voice, while also adding to the themes, mythology, events, and style that Kubrick cemented into cinema history with The Shining.
Mike Flanagan deserves all the praise in the world for how he directed this movie. We still get his style that he perfected with Haunting of Hill House, but the way in which he pays homage to Kubrick while never doing a cheap imitation is a Herculean feat, and it’s hard to imagine anybody else that could have pulled it off. And, yes, Doctor Sleep is scary. Similar with Flanagan’s previous work and The Shining itself, it’s refreshing to see horror that relies on clever filmmaking techniques to create a sense of tension and dread as opposed to relying on jump scares (the sound design here is also off the charts). This is exemplified during a particular sequence in the movie where absolutely no punches are pulled, and it’s safe to say it will stick with me for a while. But Doctor Sleep never feels pressured to prove how scary it is in order to compete with The Shining, because of course it won’t be as scary as The Shining. This is something entirely different, and you should leave your expectations at the door.
While Flanagan is the star here behind the camera, Rebecca Ferguson is unmistakably the star in front of the camera. Her presence on screen is undeniable, and I would be shocked if we’re not talking about her performance as Rose the Hat as one of the all-time great horror performances a couple years down the line. This isn’t to discount Ewan McGregor and Kyleigh Curran, who are both great and provide the emotional bedrock of their movie as they bond over their ability to ‘shine’, as well as protect one another.
It’s hard for me to imagine a world in which anybody could call this movie a lazy attempt to pander to nostalgia, yet I’ve seen countless critics do just that. For perspective, this is a 150 minute movie in which references to The Shining don’t really pick up until the last 30 minutes or so. I’m no expert at math, but that doesn’t even comprise a quarter of the movie, and this also arrives well into the third act after the movie has already established itself on its own merits. The callbacks to The Shining are not only fun, but most importantly serve the story Doctor Sleep is trying to tell by providing a sense of finality to Danny Torrance’s character arc and The Overlook Hotel. So, yeah, sue me; the third act of this movie rocks.
In case you couldn’t tell by that last paragraph, I’m far higher on this movie than most people, and unapologetically so. Doctor Sleep is the impossible sequel to The Shining that you never knew you needed, adding weight to a revered classic while also being a great movie in its own right. This is one of my favorite movies of the year, and hopefully Danny Torrance doesn’t have to use his ability to shine to convince you to see it.
“Doctor Sleep” is Ben Watches Things Approved