Doctor Sleep Review: It’s Not ‘The Shining’ (And That’s Just Fine)

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BY November 7, 2019

As Doctor Sleep is the sequel to Stephen King’s The Shining, there are a lot of expectations. The trailer, with its glimpses of the infamous Overlook Hotel, certainly did little to allay those expectations. As such, fans who go in expecting a note-perfect remake of The Shining, might be disappointed. However, as long as you understand that Doctor Sleep is its own (very good) thing, you might be pleasantly surprised. Find out why in our Doctor Sleep review.

Danny Torrance, All Grown Up

Doctor Sleep Review image via Warner Bros

If you’re a horror fan, then certain images come to mind when you think of Danny Torrance. You might think of him careening around the hallways of the Overlook on his tricycle, for instance. You might think of “REDRUM” or the Grady twins imploring him to “come play with” them “forever and ever.” However, that’s not the sum of Danny’s story. Despite the horrors Danny experienced at the Overlook, including his own father trying to kill him, he survived. He grew up. And that’s where we meet him in Doctor Sleep.

As you might expect, due to his childhood trauma, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) grew up unsettled. Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly), who first taught him about the “shine” in The Shining (where he was played by Scatman Crothers), gave him some coping mechanisms. For instance, he taught him how to confine his scary memories in mental boxes. Unfortunately, like his father before him, Danny found an easier coping tool at the bottom of a bottle. After years of alcoholism, though, Danny is trying to live a stable, normal life. But he still shines.

His unusual ability isn’t bad, though. It helps him in his job at a hospice, which is where he earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep.” And it helps him connect with Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young teenager who also has the shine. Although the shining can be a powerful gift, it can also make you feel isolated. Maybe Danny sees a little of himself in Abra, and wants to help her like Halloran helped him. Maybe he just wants to do a little good for the world.

After all, it can be a brutal place. That’s evident by the existence of a cult of psychic vampires called the True Knot. Led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), they sense and track down people who shine. Some, like Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), they fold into their makeshift family, and others they feed upon. But as the years have passed, their food source has dwindled and now they’re starving. What do you think they’ll do when they sense someone as powerful as little Abra?

A Doctor Sleep Review

Doctor Sleep review image via Warner Bros

Although the story will eventually end up in the Overlook Hotel, you should know going into this film that it is not a retelling of its predecessor. I know in these reboot-happy times that that might be hard to believe, but this movie is something else. Like director Mike Flanagan’s previous work, The Haunting of Hill House, this story is more concerned with the after-effects of trauma than the trauma itself. We see flashbacks to Danny’s experiences, but they’re not the point of the story.

As for what the point of the story actually is, this is where there might be some controversy. As I’ve mentioned, there are multiple flashbacks. Rather than use cuts from Stanley Kubrick’s film, though, Flanagan recreates the scenes with new actors. If you’re familiar with The Shining, then this can produce a kind of uncanny valley effect, as you struggle to reconcile what you’re seeing with your memories. However, there is one such character recreation (featuring Henry Thomas) that provides an opportunity for Danny finally to face his demons. It’s a moving scene, but only if you’ll let it move you.

And that’s true for the movie as a whole. While nothing in the film rattled me as much as, say, Hill House‘s unsettling Bent-Neck Lady, there is a menace to the True Knot gang that’ll give you chills. It may not be The Shining, but it is like it in one aspect: Flanagan opted against the rather cheap jump-scares that plague so many other horror films these days. Instead, there’s a quiet dread behind what Rose and company do. Maybe it’s because all the victims we see are children.

As with The Shining and Doctor Sleep, there’s an echo there, a shadow. Danny was traumatized as a boy. So when he gets the opportunity, he wants to prevent another child from experiencing the same fear, even if it means he has to open up all his mental boxes. And it’s an honorable instinct, even if you don’t shine.

The bottom line: If you didn’t like The Haunting of Hill House, especially its ending, then this ain’t for you.

Are you more or less interested in Doctor Sleep after reading this review? Let us know in the comments below or come haunt us (forever and ever) on social media.

featured image via Warner Bros

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Salomé Gonstad is a freelance writer who grew up in the swampy wilds of south Alabama. She now splits her time between the Appalachian wilds (of Alabama) and the considerably more refined streets of New York City. When she's not yelling about pop culture on the internet, she's working on a supernatural thriller about her hometown. Also, we're pretty sure she's a werewolf.

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