Years following the events of “The Shining,” a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as his and tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
Nearly 40 years after The Shining graced the screen in 1980 we receive the cinematic sequel DOCTOR SLEEP. To compare the two would be utter folly and unfair to either. The Shining was the story of a father’s descent into insanity at the hands of his alcoholism and a powerful curse. Doctor Sleep is the story of a son recovering from childhood trauma and coming to terms with his unique qualities. While linked, these are two very different films. That being said, DOCTOR SLEEP is a solid film in its own right that doesn’t achieve the primal horrors of its predecessor because it chooses not to. Hence, it could arguably be called a lesser film, but certainly not a bad one.
The story opens years after the events of the first film. Danny Torrence (Ewan McGregor) is a transient, abusing any substance he can put into his body. He is haunted by his psychic abilities and by the pain from his past. Through flashbacks, we see that, after being pursued by her ax-wielding husband, Wendy Torrence (Alex Essoe doing wonderful tribute to Shelley Duvall) takes Danny and moves to sunny Florida. “We didn’t want to see any more snow,” Danny explains in one scene. It is there that we learn also that the creepy ghosts from the Overlook Hotel followed Danny and his mother in pursuit of Danny’s Shining. At about the same time that Danny and his mother were on the run, the film introduces us to another threat. A group of vagabonds calling themselves The True Knot, led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). This group seeks individuals with The Shining to feed off of the “steam” or lifeforce of people with the “Shine”.
Back in present-day, Danny flees again to another location, this time a small berg in New England, and is befriended by Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). A local good guy, Billy sees Danny’s struggle and offers to help him get his life on solid ground. Here Danny spends 8 years recovering and coming to terms, or rather a passive acceptance of his psychic powers.
Writer-director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House, Gerald’s Game) takes the time to set up the horrors of the past in an impressive, understanding of plot structure and how these dictate the future. In fact, up to this point, we haven’t even gotten to the main action of the film.
We jump to modern times where a young girl has been discovering her own psychic powers. Abra (Kyliegh Curran) lives in a nice home with her stable, upper-middle-class parents, yet she too is discouraged from talking about her powers. Randomly, she connects with Danny psychically by writing messages on his wall every now and then. It is only after a new rash of child abductions that Abra ventures a look into where the boy might have gone and she discovers that The True Knot is behind it. Reaching out to her only Psychic friend, Danny tells her that they are a dangerous group, not to be trifled with. That is when Rose The Hat, and her True Knot clan discover Aubra and begin to close in.
Will Danny attempt to save young Aubra from the psychic monsters? Will Aubra be found and abducted? How do the Overlook Hotel and the evil that resides there play into the story of psychics and immortals doing battle? Rest easy, all roads lead back to the past and the now-abandoned lodge in the Colorado Rockies.
The script, from the original novel by King is an admirable adaptation marking another win for Flanagan. While we do eventually get back home so-to-speak, the ending that we get only services to reunite us with impeccable recreations of old friends. The twins, the guy with the split head, the naked lady in room 237, they are all here, but they feel included rather than needed for the story. The climax of the film really could have happened anywhere. The story itself would have worked had the main character been Danny Torrence or psychic Joe Schmoe. It feels like this was a refreshed story that King had knocking around his archives that benefited from a call back to one of his biggest hits.
A tortured soul nearly destroyed by trauma and addiction who aims to redeem himself, McGregor brings trudging humanity to Danny Torrence. We see his goodness and his fear at letting any of it rise to the surface Curran also does a fine job as young psychic Abra who is a beacon that the villains pursue. She is smart, but not petulant. Riding that fine line, she is capable, but never snarky. Ferguson‘s portrayal of Rose The Hat is adequate, but aside from being skeevy, and looking like a solo alternative music artist from the ’90s, I haven’t the foggiest why she would be the leader of a group of immortals aside from being the one that owns the RV.
On the production side of things, we get another sharp-looking product from Flanagan and co. “The Haunting of Hill House” cinematographer Michael Fimognari is on hand to offer crisp visuals and an overall emerald color palette. The scenes at the Overlook offer art director Richie Bearden and Set decorator Gene Serdena a chance to shine in revisiting the clean design work of Roy Walker with a decayed, weathered patina.
Alas, for better or for worse we now have a sequel to The Shining written by Stephen King himself. Straddling the canonicity with multiple sources; King’s original novel The Shining, The much-loved film adaptation of The Shining (which King notoriously despised), and the new novel from King which was received with mostly positive reviews, we end up with a watchable if not too haunting movie that is entertaining. In all fairness, the original film only received mixed reviews upon release, but developed an audience as people absorbed it. Somehow I don’t think this entry will be lauded for its depth. It will be enjoyed by fans of the original, and even stands on its own. Detached from the mythos, however, this is just a story of acceptance of oneself, demons and all.