As film fans, there’s always a handful of films that we allow to pass us by. This isn’t usually a comment on their quality or our willingness to enjoy them – sometimes, we’re just a little late to the party.
Despite being a lifelong Stephen King fan, the notorious box office bombing of Doctor Sleep was something that kept me away from the sequel to The Shining for far too long. In fact, the two things that genuinely reconciled the idea of finally watching Doctor Sleep were the names of Mike Flanagan and Ewan McGregor – particularly the former, who has proven himself to be a worthy man to adapt King’s stories to the screen.
After a start that relies a little too heavily on The Shining-related exposition, Doctor Sleep gets well underway. As soon as McGregor appears and Dan Torrance, the film takes off, carried at first by his charismatic performance, and later by its thoroughly engaging story. Not only does Doctor Sleep properly explore its premise, but it retroactively adds merit to Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, too.
Perhaps saying this borders on cinema blasphemy, but The Shining is a thoroughly overrated movie. It fails to properly explore the deeper themes of King’s original novel, wasting significant portions of the narrative in favor of style over substance. This is something that Doctor Sleep is able to reconcile into its follow-up story, gently reworking elements and retroactively introducing missing elements to the story in a way that feels both organic and genuinely intelligent.
Flanagan’s direction is spot-on, with Doctor Sleep‘s many supernatural sequences achieved in spectacular fashion and perfectly realized for the film. The merit of these particular scenes is compounded by Doctor Sleep‘s excellent cast, each of whom brings an individuality to their respective roles that help even the more minor supporting characters feel significant. There’s an unexpected physicality to the acting of the telepathy-heavy segments that both Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran in particular are able to get note-perfect.
As with many King stories, there are deeper themes at play in Doctor Sleep, and they draw perfect parallels with The Shining. For example, The Shining made statements about confinement, whereas Doctor Sleep explores the idea of isolation. In this, and in many other ways, Doctor Sleep addresses the progression of The Shining‘s themes, making the film itself a statement on breaking free of the cycles and patterns that sometimes come to define us (in Dan and Jack Torrance’s cases, its alcoholism).
There’s an awful lot to enjoy about Doctor Sleep. It’s not only deeply thrilling, but it connects profoundly to one of the most beloved films ever made, and it does so in a way that acknowledges its shortcomings while still showing reverence for its imagery and original ideas. However, Doctor Sleep also serves as an understated apology to Stephen King fans, making it something that many didn’t even realize was needed.
Summary: Doctor Sleep is able to cater to both sides of its potential audience, and brilliantly continue the cinematic legacy of both Stephen King adaptations and The Shining‘s undeniable cinematic influence.
Highlights: The pure evil of Rose the Hat and the quiet charm of Ewan McGregor make Doctor Sleep a deeply engaging film throughout.