What Went Wrong With… Doctor Sleep?

A review of Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining

Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, has some big shoes to fill. Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is undoubtedly a classic movie but it deviated from Stephen King’s book to the point that many critics, fans, and even King himself, hated the film when it was first released. The task of translating Stephen’s follow-up book (whilst simultaneously trying to satisfy fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie) was accepted by Mike Flanagan who writes, directs, and edits this sequel. Flanagan has been responsible for some decent enough horrors over the years including Ouija: Origin Of Evil, Before I Wake, and the Netflix series The Haunting Of Hill House (there have also been some below average horror movies in his filmography such as Gerald’s Game and Oculus). So how does Doctor Sleep compare to his other horror offerings? I haven’t read Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep novel so I’m basing this review on how this film compares to the classic movie it follows on from.

Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance (known as “Danny” in The Shining) someone with psychic abilities who suffered the trauma of his father attempting to kill him and his mother. Whilst staying at the Overlook Hotel with his parents as a child, Danny saw apparitions of the previous residents (or victims). The hotel’s head chef Dick Hallorann, who was also a telepath, recognised Danny’s gifts and he called them “the shining”. Doctor Sleep, is set years later in 2011 and 2019, there’s now a kid called Abra Stone (played by Kyliegh Curran) who telepathically communicates with Dan. Stone also has “the shine” but her power, which is much stronger than Torrance’s, attracts the attention of a cult known as The True Knot who feed off people who shine.

Rebecca Ferguson plays Rose The Hat, the leader of The True Knot. The group are essentially vampires but they don’t want human blood in their quest for immortality. This is where the first problem occurs; these semi-immortal humans should act like Louis Cypher in Angel Heart or John Milton in Devil’s Advocate; they should have wisdom and arrogance or possibly be jaded, cynical, and even miserable but everybody in The True Knot look and act like second-rate TV actors (which most of them are). These shine-seekers “eat screams and drink pain” but they resemble mediocre D-listers, not vampires who have lived for possibly thousands of years. Aside from the cult’s acting abilities and lack of on-screen presence, this plot is extremely ridiculous and far-fetched when compared to The Shining (whether it’s King’s or Kubrick’s version). The downright silliness of calling someone’s spiritual essence “steam” 🧐 and then when translating steam to screen, it looks no better than what comes out of a kettle! Seriously, did King think “steam” was a good name? And while I’m at it, “The True Knot” sounds like a sex position for canines.

Whilst on the topic of ridiculous plot ideas, if you think back to the originality of The Shining (a ghost story that’s wrapped-up in spousal abuse and telepathy) Doctor Sleep contains numerous unoriginal components. The storyline includes elements ripped-off from The Sixth Sense, Scanners, Ghostbusters, The Cell, and Inception, in fact this movie could have been a sequel to any of these films (and it would have been a disappointment either way). And remember the crappy film Push? Well here there’s “pushers” (or hypnotists) ooh, how exciting… not. The relatively down-to-earth concept of telepathy and remote viewing has also expanded to Uri Gellar spoon magic in Doctor Sleep. The amount of superhuman powers on show does waver greatly however, very much like Rose The Hat’s Irish accent.

In terms of directing, the remote viewing scenes where Rose flies over a vertical earth is quite effective and distinct, in fact it has a dreamlike quality to it. Aside from that however, there’s no eerie atmosphere here like Kubrick’s original, in fact there’s no mood or jump scares at all. Given that Doctor Sleep is supposed to be a horror, the fact that there is none is very disappointing. In terms of soundtrack, the heartbeat sound from the 1980 movie is completely overused and the Berlioz score is played with much less feeling than in the original. Since this film has to show characters from The Shining, thankfully, there’s no Lola de-ageing or facial motion capture from the previous film (maybe because the budget wasn’t there). But, even though one problem has been avoided (poor CGI) Doctor Sleep suffers from sub-par recreations of the 1980 movie including actors, sets, and copycat shots. Famous scenes such as Danny riding his trike around on the hallway carpet doesn’t conjure-up the same feeling as the 1980 movie and although Alexandra Essoe does a somewhat impressive “Shelley Duvall as Wendy Torrance”, the new Jack Torrance and Dick Hallorann aren’t as convincing.

There are some great lines in Doctor Sleep: “Man takes drink, drink takes drink, drink takes man”, “we’re all dying, the world is one big hospice with fresh air”, and referring to death as “finally, true restful sleep” (I’m not sure if this is an example of Stephen King’s or Mike Flanagan’s talents). Alongside these quotables however, there’s a very irritating Hard Candy sub-plot involving a “To Catch A Predator” Lolita-assassin who is supposedly 15 but who looks more like 25. It sounds like either Stephen King or Mike Flanagan are fast becoming those old blokes who think everything was rosy and perfect in the past, like there weren’t any paedophile rapists in 1980. Apparently “in this day and age” a man can’t sit on a park bench with a young girl; well that’s either an indictment of our modern society or middle-aged men and their own perverted minds.

On that note, this film stars a handful of talented children. There’s the always likeable and skilled Jacob Tremblay, newcomer Kyliegh Curran who has great presence and acting abilities, and Violet McGraw who is just adorable. Given that these kids are surrounded by adults who are generally average at acting, they stand-out or shine (pardon the pun).

The main problem with this film is the story. Trapping ghosts inside boxes like a cerebral Ghostbusters is fine I suppose, but surely apparitions aren’t containable, especially in one’s mind? And remember the line “It’s just like pictures in a book, Danny. It isn’t real”? These spirits which Dick Hallorann told Danny are recorded events of the past (he compared them to the lingering smell of burnt toast) now, all of a sudden, are mind-demons and the Overlook itself is alive. And why do mind-demons who reside in a sentient building want to devour devourers of shiners? If you’re thinking that final sentence makes no sense, then that’s how you’ll feel when you watch Doctor Sleep.

I was waiting for a better plot involving a real-life Tony (especially since Abra says she thought Dan was her imaginary friend) but no, we have steam-eating vampires and re-enactments of classic scenes. And speaking of classic scenes, Doctor Sleep descends into contrived sequel territory with repeat shots: the party guest with a wound in his head saying “great party isn’t it?” and oh yes, why is Dr. John’s office a duplicate of the Overlook Hotel manager’s office? Who the fuck knows?

There’s actors scattered about from Flanagan’s other creations in Doctor Sleep; from Gerald’s Game, from Hill House, from Before I Wake… (so many in fact that you can play a game of spot Mike Flanagan’s friend whilst watching the movie). There’s a very unrealistic stripping of hand skin a la Gerald’s Game in one scene which doesn’t make much sense since it occurs in the mind. There’s also a scene with Dan dedicating his A.A. meeting to his dad who let’s not forget, was going to “bash” his mother’s “brains right the fuck in” and pulled his arm out of its socket (the latter was done way before they even got to the Overlook). Daddy dearest also killed Dan’s telepathic friend, and chased him with an axe. “WTF” is a reaction I had not only to this scene, but to most of the movie.

There were so many references to Stephen King’s “bad endings” in 2019’s It Chapter Two and given that King has a tendency to think of a great idea only to let you down during the final act, something always needs to be changed if you’re translating his novels to screen. If you take The Shining to be a complete work that had its flaws ironed out by Stanley Kubrick, Doctor Sleep is basically a 2 and a ½ hour bad ending to the 1980 film.

There was some concern over another Stephen King adaptation with a runtime that exceeds 2 hours 30 minutes since the disappointing It Chapter Two was 169 minutes long and Doctor Sleep is 153 minutes in length. It’s an odd thing to blame the runtime of a film for its shortcomings, the sequel to It was just a bad film, its length had nothing to do with it. There are plenty of watchable 2 ½ to 3 hour movies out there (the Director’s Cut of JFK and The Ultimate Edition of Terminator 2 come to mind). It’s not necessarily the 153 minute runtime to blame here either. Very much like It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep isn’t scary, it’s not atmospheric, and the characters and plot aren’t memorable or believable. Unfortunately for both Stephen King and Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep

Can’t Outshine Kubrick.

Writing: 2/10

Directing: 3/10

Acting: 5/10

Overall: 4/10



Read the related article - What Went Right With... The Shining?

What Went Right With… The Shining?


3 replies »

    • So are you some kind of horror elitist who disparages jump scares? Some of the best horror films contain them you know. But forget that, I wrote “there’s no eerie atmosphere here like Kubrick’s original, in fact there’s no mood or jump scares at all”. Most horror classics possess both: Exorcist, Texas Chainsaw, The Shining… there was BOTH atmosphere and jump scares. Doctor Sleep was just a dull film in every way, it possessed neither. You seriously liked this trash?

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