Doctor Sleep is one of the few sequels to a classic that I’ve been truly excited for. I was invested the first time I saw a trailer for it, and I had not yet seen The Shining. I did know that I needed to and my interest in Doctor Sleep only gave me the motivation to go back and do so. (“Better Late than Never” review coming soon.)
Because I had not seen The Shining (or read it) I had no idea what to expect from it or how Doctor Sleep was going to fare as a follow up to the classic. Of course I knew about “Here’s Johnny!” and the door scene and the homage to that scene is given away in the trailer. However, until the trailer I knew nothing of what the name meant and that element was incredibly interesting to me because it was unexpected.
Watching The Shining gave me the context I needed to understand some of the references in Doctor Sleep and also where the main character came from, but other than that it was a completely different movie. Doctor Sleep basically took the foundation that was established in the first story and built a mansion on it. A lot of story was told and I was riveted from start to finish.
Doctor Sleep fills in the gaps from 1980 to 2019 so we know how Danny’s life has gotten to where it is now. Then, it expands the world of The Shining masterfully before giving us what feels like a superhero showdown with real stakes. The Haunting of Hill House meets Logan.
Doctor Sleep takes us back to 1980 to establish what was going on outside of the contained story in The Shining. It also lets us know what happened to Danny and Wendy Torrance after surviving their ordeal. For the record, they did an amazing job casting Wendy as Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) was very convincing in that role. Danny left a tad bit to be desired but he did his job in showing us how Danny coped with his “gift” after leaving Colorado.
He did have help from Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) who also was a pretty convincing stand-in for Scatman Crothers and this helps set the tone for the movie. We then jump forward to 2011 and see that Danny (Ewan McGregor) has not grown into adulthood well. You’d expect a kid who whose father tried to kill he and his mom to have some issues. He’s an alcoholic and we see him make some very bad decisions, hitting his rock bottom. The scene is difficult but pays off in a big way later in the movie.
These flashbacks do a great job of setting the table for the story and don’t hurt it like the ones in IT did.
While The Shining dipped its toe into the supernatural, Doctor Sleep goes 50 feet up and belly flops into it. This was what got my attention in the trailer and they delivered in a big way.
First of all, they did a great job of developing Danny’s ability and his ties to his mentee Dick Hallorann. This set the table for Danny to then become the mentor for Abra (Kyliegh Curran) when she starts to shine. It’s a simple tie at first that lets the young girl know she’s not alone and when things get serious… well, no spoilers.
At the same time Doctor Sleep does an AMAZING job of building up our antagonists. The traveling group of people who shine (The True Knot) and consume children who shine were well established for us. Each has their own particular set of skills *Liam Neeson voice* and they work together to stay alive. One thing I appreciate about this group is that they aren’t completely destructive, they choose who can join them and who has to be eaten. Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible series) plays Rose the Hat who is the leader of the crew and she’s as vicious as she is intoxicating.
While we know they’re the bad guys, there’s something cool about this band of powerful hippies.
Man look, if you have read any of my reviews of his movies you have to know I had a reaction to my man Jacob Tremblay appearing in Doctor Sleep. The kid is special and while his appearance here was more of a cameo, it was a much appreciated one.
His appearance leads directly into my next point (and also made Rebecca Ferguson cry. Some *Spoilers* at the link.)
I compared this movie to Logan in the opening and there are a few ways the two compare. For one you have the older mentor type trying to protect the feisty understudy. It helps that these are both older men protecting young girls from themselves and outside forces. There’s also the fact that they are being pursued by other people with abilities. Then there’s the very real stakes at play.
Unlike most hero movies where you know the hero is going to win, you don’t get that vibe from either of these films. You also lose characters that you had grown to love in dramatic fashion, some of them being completely innocent. That kind of death affects you and makes the drama of the film feel more real.
References to The Shining
One thing that always worries me in movies of this nature is the way the references to the prior film are handled. There are many iconic moments in The Shining and, without going into detail, Doctor Sleep manages to pay homage to almost all of them. The fact that they give a few away in the trailer didn’t hurt them either because of how they built to these moments.
There are a few that might be a bit on the nose but they were relevant to the story in some way. There was so much to like about Doctor Sleep and this element is one of them.
If you can’t tell, I really enjoyed Doctor Sleep. It was a sequel that built upon the world that was established by the original while paying homage to it as well. I don’t want to make this comparison really but it gave me a similar feeling that the Jumanji sequel did. You can tell it’s in the same universe as the classic and that universe is important to the story, but at the same time it isn’t the story.
I can’t think of a true weak point in this movie. It does start somewhat slow as they’re setting up the story but where The Shining spent the first two acts doing this, Doctor Sleep only does this for the first. Considering the 40 year gap, I’d say a little refresher at the beginning was important.