Saturday, August 8, 2020


Film: Doctor Sleep
Format: DVD from Cortland Public Library on basement television.

One of the problems with sequels is that there are a lot of expectations with them. John Carpenter wanted to turn the Halloween franchise into an anthology, with a completely different story every year. He tried with Halloween III and got buried for it, even though now, decades later, it’s considered a pretty good horror movie. Often, a sequel happens after a movie gets a great deal of acclaim, and the sequel is frequently a disappointment because of those expectations. So how do you do a sequel after 40 years? Well, they did it with Halloween from 2018, and did it pretty well. Doctor Sleep attempts to do the same thing with The Shining.

Before we dive head-first into Doctor Sleep, I want to discuss this idea of sequels and what Doctor Sleep does right in that respect. A sequel to what is widely considered one of the greatest horror movies ever made 40 years after the fact is, honestly, a big ask. What we expect, of course, is that we’ll spend the movie at The Overlook dealing with the unquiet ghosts of the past. The truth is that we do get there eventually, but not until the third act. Doctor Sleep wants us to earn that return to Room 237. So, we’re going to deal with something entirely different that is going to lead us back to that doomed hotel. By the time we get there, we’ve had an entirely new story to get us there.

We start by being introduced to Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), a sort of psychic vampire. Rose leads a group that calls itself the True Knot. The True Knot are undead, and they feed on people with psychic abilities. What Danny Torrance called the Shine, the True Knot calls “steam.” For them, fear and pain purify the food. They kill their victims and store any residual “food” for later. But as the film continues, we discover that the True Knot is having a harder and harder time finding victims.

Meanwhile, Danny has grown up, become Dan (Ewan McGregor), and become an alcoholic. The alcohol suppresses his psychic abilities. He hits rock bottom and, desperate, winds up in a small town in New Hampshire where he joins AA and starts to clean up. This brings his shine back, though, and it is through this that he encounters Abra (Dakota Hickman initially, and then Kyliegh Curran), who is astonishingly powerful in terms of her psychic abilities. And so this sets up the movie. The True Knot wants Abra as food. Dan wants initially to be left alone and eventually to protect Abra, and Abra just wants to survive, but also wants to destroy the True Knot.

Doctor Sleep does a lot of things right. In fact, it does most things right. One of the better aspects of it is that it presents us with truly evil villains. The True Knot are really terrible. They torture their victims terribly, and the vast majority of their victims are children. They are child predators in the worst possible way. The True Knot is monstrous in the way Pennywise is—appropriate since both are the creation of Stephen King.

It also doesn’t give us a Mary Sue version of Dan Torrance. When we first see him, he’s stealing money from a single mother who stole money from him. We learn not too long after that the single mother and her child have died, not specifically because of Dan’s actions, but he is not entirely blameless. Dan’s rock bottom is a very serious place to end up.

It’s also very well cast. We’re going to get some throwbacks to the original film, of course. Carl Lumbly fills in for the late Scatman Crothers, and looks enough like him that it works. Cliff Curtis is here as Dan’s AA sponsor, and Curtis is good in pretty much everything he touches. Also doing nice work is Zahn McClarnon as Crow Daddy, Rose the Hat’s right hand. All of these people look natural in this world. They belong here, and they have a weight to them.

By the time we get back to The Overlook, it makes sense in terms of the story. We get there quite naturally, and for reasons that make sense narratively. Nothing here really feels forced.

This is how to do a sequel. Doctor Sleep is very clearly a sequel to The Shining in every way, but it’s also an entirely new story in almost every way. It builds on the first story, and creates something entirely new while doing so. It respects the old history and uses it to further its own narrative, but also creates an entirely new mythology to go along with it. And it eventually takes us where we want to go—literally. The room with “Redrum” etched in the door, the elevators that flood sanguine, Jack’s writing table, even the bathroom hacked open by Jack Torrance’s axe. We pay homage, but it all feels natural.

If you like The Shining, this is worth seeing. If you love The Shining, it ties up a lot of loose ends, although admittedly, since it runs 152 minutes, those loose ends are at the back side of a hell of a lot of yarn.

Why to watch Doctor Sleep: Sequels should aspire to do this.
Why not to watch: At 152 minutes, it’s longer than it needs to be.


  1. I know this is a film playing on HBO right now as I'm intrigued to see what it will do though I know it will not live up to the brilliance that is The Shining.

    1. In a way, it's hard to compare them on some levels. It's not unlike comparing Alien and Aliens. They definitely have a great deal of connective tissue, but they are wildly different in so many ways, and both are excellent in their own ways.

  2. I enjoyed the movie, too, although it's a bit of a paradox: director Mike Flanagan said he had wanted to make a sequel that reconciled the differences between the movie version of "The Shining" and King's novel The Shining. He accomplished that—I think—but his own film majorly diverges from the novel Doctor Sleep, especially in terms of a major character who lives in the book but dies in the movie.

    1. Having not read the book, I'm guessing I know the character in question, and that's a character I would have liked to have seen survive.

  3. Saw this in the theater but was turned off by the kid torture and murder. I know what they were doing by showing it, but it was so unpleasant, it just made me miserable. I really don't think the filmmakers needed to go as far as they did to make the villains effective. Also, as soon as I realized they were psychic vampires, they lost me a little bit. There were some things to like, but in the end it didn't work for me.

    1. I think the torture is important. It makes them truly evil and despicable, and while I understand the turn-off, I think it's--perhaps not necessary--but important.

      I get your point, though.