An old and fuzzy Warner Bros. logo appears on screen, as the static bum bum bum’s of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining ominously echo around the theatre. Despite the referential opener, this is not The Shining. This is Doctor Sleep – a sequel arriving after thirty-nine years, adapted from the follow-up book by none other than Stephen King.
The references to Kubrick’s classic are unavoidable, and there are of course plenty to go around throughout Doctor Sleep’s hefty two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Yet Doctor Sleep is its own film with its own identity. It throws its viewers further down the supernatural hole of King’s world, with inter-demons, ghosts galore, and the powers of those that ‘shine’.
Through its expansive and slow-paced storyline is an excellent cast. Ewan McGregor shines (no pun intended) as the troubled and addiction-ladled Danny Torrance, who struggles to move on from the horrors of The Overlook Hotel. Kyliegh Curran is excellent as the young and powerful Abra, who equals Danny through the entirety of the runtime. The most eccentric of the bunch is Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat. The colourful antagonist, who is menacing if not a little theatrical – she even has an attempt at a catchphrase.
Having recently watched Pet Sematary and a double bill of the It films, this is by far my favourite of King’s modern adaptation. It isn’t afraid to linger and take its time, letting you seep in the world. While the second chapter to It was around the same length, Doctor Sleep allows for quieter and seemingly inconsequential moments, which ended being some of the more memorable. Its pace and content had the essence of a novel which to me is its greatest attribute.
However, most people are here for a sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining, and as mentioned there are references sprinkled throughout. There aren’t any insanely long and still shots, or long periods of silence, but there are style choices that feel Kubrick-esque. Director Mike Flanagan has managed to meticulously balance the scales between service to The Shining fans and a creating something new. Anyone that was a fan of Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House will likely enjoy this too, as it carries over the mature and quiet presence of the horror genre (although it must be said this isn’t a particularly scary film). Its most controversial element, however, is its willingness to reshoot and recast moments and characters from the original. It will likely ruffle a few feathers, and there were times I will admit it took me out of it. Going back to such works, particularly of such iconic status, seems a unnecessary risk to take, yet the spacing between them overall didn’t spoil the experience.
I was admittedly excited for Doctor Sleep, as I was blissfully unaware that there was even a second book, yet even still it surprised me. If you accept the long runtime and slow pace, this is an immensely entertaining supernatural ride. It methodically makes its way through the story in a way that had my eyes wired to the screen, and I didn’t even notice the time. While having references galore, it never felt like it was reaping the benefits of another film, as each one of them came into the story in a natural and interesting way. However, it is at its best when it distances itself further from The Shining, focusing on its own story outside the views of The Overlook Hotel. After the thirty-nine year wait, Johnny is definitely here.