Doctor Sleep Movie Review
Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, and Kyliegh Curran and was directed by Mike Flanagan. Based on Stephen King’s 2013 novel of the same name, it tells the story of an adult Danny, played by Ewan McGregor, as he deals with the emotional trauma of the events of The Shining, while also helping to protect a young girl from a cult that hunts people who shine. 2019 has been a great year for Stephen King fans. We’ve gotten three theatrically released films, one Netflix movie, one new tv show, one renewed tv show, and a new book.
Doctor Sleep serves as the endcap to this banner King year and it does so quite satisfyingly. Before we really get into this review, there are two relevant pieces of information about me that you need to know. First, I absolutely love Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of The Shining. In spite of its significant changes from the novel (which I also adore), that film stands as not only one of my favorite horror movies, but as one of my favorite movies of all time and it really was the movie that got me into film criticism. The second thing you need to know? I still haven’t read Doctor Sleep.
I got the book only a few months after it came out in 2013 and it’s been sitting on my shelf ever since. After this movie was announced, I truly intended to finally read it and even organized a book club of sorts with my fellow film reviews over on Twitter, but I just ran out of time and, honestly, only made it seven pages in. I definitely still plan to read it at some point, but for now, I can’t comment on how the movie compares to the book. So, with those things in mind, let’s talk about Doctor Sleep. Thirty-nine years is a long time between an original movie and a sequel.
That on its own would be challenging for any sequel. But, this isn’t just any sequel. This is the sequel to The Shining; a film that’s been heralded as a cinematic masterpiece for decades. So, that puts Doctor Sleep in a really unique position cause its inherent connection to The Shining serves as both a detriment and a benefit. It has some really big shoes to fill following up a movie like The ShiningÖ arguably impossible to fill. This movie has to struggle with constant comparisons, despite being its own story. Even if the movie was technically and cinematically on par with the first one, it would still need to contend with nearly forty years of fandom and nostalgia. That nostalgia is a double-edged sword though. While causing frustration and disappointment in some people, it’s gonna be the draw for others. Doctor Sleep benefits from having an already established jumping off point.
We already know Danny and what he’s been through, so very little time needs to be spent setting his character up here. On top of that, you’ve got all of the things that fans of The Shining can look at and say ìHey, I understand that!î which feels very personal, despite many people having that same reaction. There’s a certain level of nostalgic excitement seeing the Overlook again; walking past the elevators or through the Gold Room, seeing the typewriter and chopped up bathroom door. Hearing the hints of that ominous score or even seeing the aerial shots of Dan’s car as he drives to the Overlook, perfectly mirroring the opening shots of the original film.
There’s a lot of connections to The Shining, but ultimately, Doctor Sleep is its own thing. The story itself is much more supernatural, following in the footsteps of The Shining novel more so than the film adaptation. Ironically, the act of shining has a far more significant role in the plot here than it does in The Shining and its integration into the larger story was done nicely.
This film is far more expansive, trading in the claustrophobic psychological horror of The Shining for something more supernaturally adventurous, giving this movie a very different feel than its predecessor. This helps to separate the two movies some, but also results in a plot that feels very rushed due to its expansiveness. That rushed feeling is unfortunately very common in film adaptations of Stephen King novels cause there’s usually so much to them. His plots frequently get pretty complex and layered, so simplifications are often made to translate his stories to film.
That usually means a lot of nuance and thematic meaning is lost and, even in the best cases, relevant details are glossed over. Even without having read the novel yet, there were a few points that I could tell were either glossed over or fast-forwarded through. It kept the plot moving, but definitely opened up some gaps in the story that I would’ve preferred to have seen filled, even if that meant a slightly longer movie. Doctor Sleep is an excellent continuation of the story, furthering many of the same themes found in The Shining. Although it takes a more supernatural approach, it’s still definitely about dealing with your inner demons.
This movie takes its metaphors to the extreme with Danny’s boxes, but it explores the idea of bottling things up and how doing that may help in the moment, but can be draining and damaging in the long-run. It also tackles the concept of letting go of the past, using past traumas and experiences to overcome present-day obstacles. It also spends a good deal of time on family history and the inevitability of becoming like your parents, which is something that Danny fears and struggles with throughout the movie. Doctor Sleep is certainly not The Shining, but it doesn’t try to be either. Alright, let’s talk about the pros and cons. Pro number one has definitely gotta be the connections to The Shining.
I know I literally just got done talking about how this movie isn’t The Shining and sets itself apart, but as a huge fan of the original movie, I can’t help but be drawn to the familiar moments. It’s really satisfying seeing the care and effort that went into crafting the return to the Overlook. Everything from the recreation scenes to the mirrored shots from the first film are really well-done. There’s a scene in this movie where Dan’s sitting at the bar in the Gold Room. Not only is he sitting in the exact same seat where his father had sat 39 years before, but his clothes are a reversed variant of Jack’s when he was there. In The Shining, Jack’s got a red jacket with a green plaid shirt. Here, Dan’s got a red plaid shirt with a green jacket.
There are a lot of little references and Easter eggs like that scattered throughout this movie. Abra’s address is 1980, the year that The Shining was released. Dan’s first time following the cat at the hospice, leads him into Room 217, which was the original number of the infamous hotel room in The Shining novel, later changed to 237 in the movie. The second pro has to be the metaphors. I’m sure most of the credit here goes to Stephen King and his source material. I’ll admit that some of the metaphors came across a little obvious and maybe heavy-handed, but I think that’s the consequence of translating something supernatural and intangible into something physical for the movie.
The idea of confronting your present using the pain of your past was really interesting and I think the mirrored struggles between Jack and Danny provided pretty solid commentary on the long-lasting effects parents can have on their kids. On the con side, the biggest issue was that the plot felt rushed. Again, I think this is primarily due to condensing a fairly complex novel into something more straight-forward for the screen. It’s kinda weird cause the plot feels rushed and feels like its missing pieces at times, but the movie as a whole is on the slow side. It’s long, but I personally didn’t feel that length, with one exception.
There was one scene of astral projection flying that was abnormally dragged out. I’m gonna give Doctor Sleep 4 out of 5 paws. I always hope to like Stephen King movies, but more often than not, I’m left disappointed by them, so it’s always refreshing to get a good one with a solid story and strong performances. I really have to read this novel now. I would recommend Doctor Sleep most obviously to fans of The Shining, though I think people are gonna be a bit split on this one. Despite all of its connections to that movie, this film has quite a few deviations. The cinematography’s perfectly fineÖ quite good actually, but there’s no way it can compare to the technical aspects of The Shining, so if you’re going in with that type of comparative mindset, this movie’s gonna disappoint you.
It also follows more in-line with King’s novels and takes a more supernatural fantasy adventure route than a psychological one, so if you’re looking for a scary movie, this’ll be a bit underwhelming. If you liked Doctor Sleep, you know what my number one recommendations gonna be: The Shining. Not only does it set-up the characters and premise, but it serves as an introduction to the major themes that make an appearance here. Plus, it’s just a really fantastic movie. If you liked the idea of mental libraries and boxes, you should check out Dreamcatcher. It’s another supernaturally-tinged Stephen King movie that deals with isolation and past experiences.
I would also recommend IT: Chapter Two for another Stephen King movie that takes a look at the adult versions of kids exposed to supernatural horror. Alright, a couple questions for you guys. Number one: Have you seen Doctor Sleep? If so, what’d you think of it? And number two: What’s another Stephen King movie or book you’d like to see a sequel for? Be sure to leave your answers in the comments below so we can get a discussion going.