The Shining came out in 1980, to almost universal acclaim (except for the book’s author, Stephen King, but let’s just not talk about that). Local film analyst Wyatt Carter said in an interview, “The Shining, what I would argue is Stanley Kubrick’s best work, strikes hard with a haunting score, lonely winter setting, skillful cinematography, and brilliant acting that forces the watcher to feel what the characters within the film feel; you go mad with Jack, feel lonely with Windey, and become fearful with Danny.”
Director Stanley Kubrick brought something to the original novel that many people claimed made it the greatest horror movie ever made. The novel came out in 1977, and was followed by a thirty-six-year hiatus before a sequel was published. Similarly, movie-goers had a nearly thirty-year wait from the original film until the adaptation of that sequel–Dr. Sleep. Is Dr. Sleep worthwhile? Or is it an unnecessary follow-up?
The narrative follows Ewan McGregor’s character Danny “Dan” Torrance (son of Jack Nicholson from the first movie). He’s hidden his telepathic “shine” for years but finds that he has used it when a teenage girl, Abra Stone (played by Kyliegh Curran), uses her own abilities to see that an evil cult led by Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson) has been killing psychics and absorbing their power to stay young. It’s up to Abra and Dan to stop this cult and save psychics across the world.
The plot sounds insane. But, this is the same author who wrote about a group of kids named Losers taking on a psychotic clown. Such craziness is par the course, but the question is, “How much can the characters grab our attention?” The answer is complicated.
Dr. Sleep, unlike its predecessor, doesn’t feel like a horror movie. It’s more like a supernatural thriller. There are some scenes where it builds tension, but nothing on the same level as The Shining. It felt like the entire movie was slowly winding a guitar string until it finally snapped. In Dr. Sleep, they seemingly made this plot without the intention of making it scary. Rather, it is scary because of its association with the horror of The Shining.
The lack of horror partially comes from the villains. In The Shining, the villain was the hotel, which constantly twisted the main characters against each other. Here, we’re given a personified and physical threat which doesn’t quite stack up. Another part of the problem is that Rose is overpowered multiple times in the movie by Abra who is thirteen years old. It doesn’t exactly paint an image of horror when a teenager is kicking the villain through glass with her mind. The movie establishes that Abra is exceptionally powerful, but even then it comes across as silly. The other villains besides Rose are normal people with a hint of powers.
All of this would be ok, however, if the movie was trying to distance itself from its predecessor. The Shining had one threat that couldn’t be stopped; this movie has multiple stoppable threats. Unfortunately, Dr. Sleep just doesn’t distance itself well from the original as this distinction even falls apart at the climax, which hit you over the head with homages and references to the original. In ways, it’s done incredibly well, such as a fascinating discussion Dan has with one of the ghosts. Other than that, it comes across as no more than fan service for the sake of extending a movie that could’ve ended sooner.
This doesn’t mean the movie is garbage. In fact, there’s a lot to enjoy. Ewan McGregor and Kyliegh Curran knock it out of the park with their performances. When the film dips into the more strange horror elements that are similar to the original The Shining, it’s intriguing. Unfortunately, they don’t do enough of that to make the movie captivating.
Dr. Sleep is a decent follow-up to an amazing movie, which may dampen it in some eyes. If you can take out comparisons to its predecessor, it’s a perfectly fine movie. Comparatively, however, it’s night and day. It does a lot of good things, but has the potential to do more.
Dr. Sleep is in theaters now and holds a 76% on Rotten Tomatoes.
Media by Thomas Broomfield.