Mike Flanagan’s (no relation to the writer) “Doctor Sleep” confirms what we already knew: it is impossible to create a sequel to the masterpiece that is Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining.” When reviewed as a stand-alone thriller, the film succeeds in upholding its promised tension through a unique style of recollecting post-traumatic stress disorder portrayed through haunting special effects. However, when perceived as a retelling of Danny Torrance’s life, it fails to continue the Overlook Hotel’s impending threat of Jack Nicholson’s presence along with other monsters that plague the family.
The film is inspired by Stephen King’s 2013 New York Times best seller “Doctor Sleep,” a sequel to “The Shining” that continues Danny Torrance’s life forty years after the traumatizing events unfolded throughout his childhood. In this adaptation, Flanagan delivers the tale in a recovery narrative by focusing on Danny’s (Ewan McGregor) alcoholism, which disables his psychic “Shine,” the supernatural gift of telepathy and clairvoyance. Those familiar with “The Shining” may remember that Danny’s Shine previously took the form of his imaginary friend and finger, Tony.
In addition to Danny the film shifts between multiple character arcs, as it introduces Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a 13-year-old girl whose extrasensory ability surpasses the film’s antagonists, the True Knot. This cult of semi-immortal beings feast upon those who possess the Shine in order to retain their ageless ability. When Danny is called upon from his years of self pity and substance abuse, he must help Abra end the rootless murders carried out by the True Knot and destroy its leader, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).
The film’s style and rhetoric contradict the consistency that Flanagan typically delivers in his previous outstanding works, including his critically acclaimed “The Haunting of Hill House,” based on the novel by Shirley Jackson, as well as his earlier films: “Hush,” “Oculus,” “Ouija: Origin of Evil” and “Gerald’s Game.” His notable style is defined by his use of jump-scares and his ability to keep an audience on edge in a use of terrifying apparitions. In “Doctor Sleep,” however, Flanagan has abandoned relying on this scare-technique in order to continue the uncanny tensity in “The Shining,” which is created through a wavering uneasiness of cabin-fever and the toppling of a family dynamic. He somewhat retains his occasional grotesque figure, but begins to overuse the appearance of these ghosts, as is seen with the woman in the bathtub, an already iconic reuse of a scare from the first film.
By attempting to uphold this similar unnatural atmosphere as Kubrick’s adaptation, Flanagan focuses on character development, unique styling and an upbeat pace, while incorporating a train of child murders. However, by creating too many narrative arcs within multiple characters, the storyline is difficult to follow, and results in a lack of focus on the film’s heroes, Danny and Abra. In fact, what is most successful in the film is the use of the aesthetically appealing “Hereditary”-esque dollhouse effect, in which the rooms rotate on their sides as those who posses the Shine hover over their windows in order to access the subconscious of another’s mind.
In an effort to uphold this chilling ambiance, Flanagan evaluates the crumbling relationships within the Torrance family immediately following the events within “The Shining.” In order to do this, the film recasts the actors who portray young Danny, Wendy and Jack Torrance, as well as Dick Hallorann, who still haunts Danny well into his adulthood. Although Flanagan expertly creates scenes that serve as a window into the life of Danny and Wendy after their residence at the Overlook, this recasting results in an unnecessary disconnect between the original film, and almost tries to rewrite its iconography. Not only are the actors depicting these unseen moments but they also replicate scenes, including the famous tracking shot of Danny on the big-wheel tricycle riding through the Hotel. Even worse, Flanagan breaks the canon by creating a cameo appearance by Danny Lloyd (who plays Danny in “The Shining”) as an entirely new character for a few minutes on screen, only furthering himself from the canon that Kubrick had created in 1980.
Furthermore, the film could do without many of its psychoanalytical scenes, some of which contribute nothing to the plot or only over-complicate major moments. After two and a half hours, the plot teeters on, and does not return to the iconic Outlook Hotel until the final fifth of the film, making the audience forget at times that the story is meant to stem from a film produced 40 years ago, furthering this separation and continuity from “The Shining.”
Flanagan has rewritten the predetermined narrative of Danny Torrence, as it unfolds into a superhero “saving the world” narrative, all while battling his inner demons of PTSD. The film fails to uphold the scares that Flanagan has branded himself with in the classical horror sense, but instead depicts the fear behind inner-soul searching as well as digging through the past.