Directed by Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep cannily honors both Stephen King’s original novel The Shining and Kubrick’s movie version as it focuses on the adult life of the original’s child protagonist now grown but dealing with his supernatural gifts in a terror-filled new tale.
The Production: 3.5/5
Despite its controversial reception upon its release for its length, pacing, and only semi-faithfulness to its source material, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining remains one of the 20th century’s most seminal horror films. Now almost forty years after the fact, its sequel Doctor Sleep arrives to continue the story of its now legendary characters. Directed by Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep cannily honors both Stephen King’s original novel and Kubrick’s movie version as it focuses on the adult life of the original’s child protagonist now grown but dealing uneasily with his supernatural gifts in a terror-filled new tale.
Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has spent almost forty years getting his life in order after the horrific events leading to the death of his father when he was five years old. Now a recovering alcoholic acting as an orderly in a hospice tending to the dying using his “shining” powers to help ease them into the afterlife (hence his title “Doctor Sleep”), Dan has finally gotten his act together with the help of best friend Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). Dan, however, comes into telepathic contact with a young girl whose shining powers are the greatest he’s ever experienced, young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), who finds herself being stalked by a vampire-like cult called the True Knot who have survived for centuries breathing the essences of children they’ve murdered who also possess “the shining.” The cult led by uber-powerful priestess Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) has set its sights on Abra whose death essence could sustain them for a long time. Together, Dan and Abra plan her rescue.
Adapting Stephen King’s sequel novel for the screen, director Mike Flanagan takes his time setting up Dan’s backstory and sad young adulthood as well as showing us details of the intricacies of the True Knot cult before we actually settle into the story of the stalking of Abra (hence the film’s 2 ½ hour running time with its director’s cut running thirty minutes longer). As Flanagan ping pongs back-and-forth between Dan and the True Knot, one feels he’s mimicking Stanley’s Kubrick’s deliberate pacing of The Shining in setting up his players and their stakes before the murder and mayhem begin. There are a couple of murder scenes with children that are most disturbing (thankfully, gore is kept to a minimum), and Flanagan’s visualization of Rose’s ability to traverse time and space to get inside the heads of her victims is quite lyrical. More visceral, of course, is a brilliantly set-up scene of ambush as Dan, Billy, and Abra lure the cult into a forest so they can be eliminated. And, naturally, the infamous Overlook Hotel (which we do see in brief scenes at the movie’s beginning as key moments in The Shining are recreated as faithful to Kubrick’s original as they could be) plays a major part in the film’s final hour as it serves as the location for the climactic face-off between the forces of good and evil (and the detail in these recreations is so spectacularly stunning that you’ll swear you’re back on Kubrick’s original sets: the doors, windows, corridors, rooms, ballroom, and hedge maze all remain timeless and remarkable in their ability to shock and startle). Flanagan also takes advantage of Wendy Carlos’ music themes and other music used in The Shining to abet the Doctor Sleep background score, again instantly transporting us back into the moody terrors of that terrible place as the events of the story play out: sadly, King and Flanagan go off the rails a little in this climax as Dan becomes momentarily imbued with the evil spirits of the site turning into his dad. It doesn’t seem to quite ring true with the character’s having dealt with those demons long ago.
Ewan McGregor is a solid presence as Dan Torrance, and we can easily believe the Danny from The Shining grew up to be him. (By the way, Danny Lloyd who played Danny in the original film has a small part in this movie.) Rebecca Ferguson brings brilliant villainy to the fore as the powerful Rose the Hat. Her number one henchman Crow Daddy is played with steely loyalty and determination by Zahn McClarnon. Kyliegh Curran as the telepathically gifted Abra Stone shows complete ease and command before the camera, a real find. Cliff Curtis is an earnest best friend as Billy Freeman while Emily Alyn Lind has a wonderfully maniacal manner as cult member Snakebite Andi who has the power of unstoppable persuasion. Recreating characters from The Shining, Carl Lumbly is an excellent Dick Hallorann, Alex Essoe and Roger Dale Floyd are reasonable facsimiles of Wendy and Danny, Sallye Hooks is okay as the horrific walking corpse Mrs. Massey, and Henry Thomas, while lacking the quirky craziness of Jack Nicholson’s original portrayal of Jack Torrance, has a certain physical resemblance that makes him a passable doppelganger.
3D Rating: NA
The film’s original theatrical aspect ratio of 1.85:1 is faithfully rendered in this 2160p transfer using the HEVC codec. Sharpness, color, contrast, and detail are all excellent, sometimes startlingly photorealistic, aided in no small measure by Dolby Vision application which renders the colors very lifelike and the image pristine in appearance without any oversaturation or blow out brightness levels. The movie has been divided into 19 chapters. (The disc also contains HDR-10+ for those so equipped.)
The Dolby Atmos sound mix utilizes every possible aural direction for maximum effectiveness, placing howling winds in the height speakers once we return to the snowy dread of the Overlook and emphasizing startling punches of bass for jump scares and various shocks. Dialogue has been clearly recorded and mostly appears in the center channel with ghostly remembrances sometimes placed in various surround channels. The effective new music from the Newton Brothers and various sound effects are cannily threaded through the available channels for optimum efficacy.
Special Features: 3.5/5
The UHD disc contains the theatrical cut. The Director’s Cut (running 180 minutes) appears only on the enclosed Blu-ray disc.
Also on the UHD disc are the following featurettes:
From Shining to Sleep (4:56, HD): novelist Stephen King and writer-director Mike Flanagan discuss the original novel and its sequel along with Kubrick’s maligned film version of the original. Flanagan insists his job was to piece the worlds of King and Kubrick together into a seamless whole.
The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision (13:57, HD): a behind-the-scenes look at the production of the film with comments from writer Stephen King, director Mike Flanagan, producer Trevor Macy, costume designer Terry Anderson, makeup coordinators Robert Kurtzman and Marcia King, and cast members Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Selena Anduze, and Robert Longstreet, among others.
Return to the Overlook (14:59, HD): fascinating look at the efforts to recreate the sets from The Shining with comments from Mike Flanagan, Trevor Macy, Ewan McGregor, Carl Lumbly, Henry Thomas, Alex Essoe, and Sallye Hooks, among others.
Blu-ray Disc/Digital Code: enclosed in the case.
Doctor Sleep may not become the classic The Shining has become over the decades since its release, but it’s still an absorbing continuation of the story of its young protagonist in his troubled adult years. The Warner 4K disc release offers tremendous video and audio quality which will make a nice companion piece to Warner’s recent release of The Shining on 4K.