Stephen King’s universe really needs an equivalent to Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters.
“Doctor Sleep” begins roughly a few months after the events of “The Shining.” Dan Torrance is still being somewhat haunted by the Overlook Hotel, but eventually manages to get things under control in that regard thanks to his Shining power. Unfortunately, though, his life takes bad turns and he later ends up becoming homeless and addicted to alcohol.
Dan (Ewan McGregor) does come across another man, Billy (Cliff Curtis) in the northeast, though, who helps him get back on his feet by bringing him into rehab and assisting him in getting an apartment. However, while he seems to be settling in and even using his power for some good, trouble rears its head with a new threat. That threat is a group of people who not only stay alive, but keep their youth, by killing individuals with Shining powers and breathing in their life force.
“Doctor Sleep” really wants the audience to know that it is a “Shining” sequel, almost to the point where this film doesn’t get much room to breathe. The picture seems to be pulled in two directions, as there’s the new story being told about Dan trying to protect a young girl with Shining power from this cult, but it’s also being dictated by the predecessor to an extent.
The story of Dan becoming a mentor to a new person with the Shine ability and facing down with this new cult group is compelling enough in itself. So, the excessive callbacks to the previous picture seemed unnecessary.
There’s also the issue of pacing, especially noticeable in the first act. In a rather short span, the movie includes a prelude with Dan as a kid as well as a sub plot with a teen girl being recruited in the cult. Neither of these are particularly necessary in the long run, especially the latter, as the girl doesn’t have any impact on the larger narrative.
With all that said, there is an engaging element of seeing the next stage of Dan’s life. His childhood would of course result in some scars so the concept of him confronting his demons and also mentoring another person with the Shining is compelling. The sequences of Dan’s character development and his efforts against the cult are where the film hits its stride.
Additionally, there’s no doubt that pushing the nostalgia buttons just enough gets some enjoyment. While Director Mike Flanagan and Cinematographer Michael Fimognari do reuse too many of the shots and angles from Stanley Kubrick’s piece to much less effect, a trip to a now dilapidated Overlook Hotel offers some entertainment value for fans.
Another positive for “Doctor Sleep” was the casting of Ewan McGregor in the lead role. There’s a major age difference between the Dan in the original and this one here, so McGregor had to make the character his own. In this aspect, he pulls it off, making Dan a sympathetic character an audience can root for, not just in his battles with his personal struggles, but also in his efforts to protect others with the Shining.
Kyliegh Curran, who portrays the young Abra, who’s developing her own Shine powers, is also quite good here. The character she portrays has a lot going on and Curran’s performance is convincing here.
When it comes to the villains, though, “Doctor Sleep” is kind of hit and miss. Rebecca Ferguson portrays the main villain, Rose, and she’s quite good showcasing the character’s cruelty and malice. However, Rose and the rest of the cult’s motivation is weak and shallow.
Basically, they’re obsessed with sucking out life force to stay young, and that’s about it. It’s more or less the same motivation as the villains from “Tangled” and “Hocus Pocus.” The way they go about it is obviously more intense, but even so, it was kind of lame. Not only that, but they never truly seem to pose that much of a threat to the protagonists.
“Doctor Sleep” is a solid two and a half hours, so it’s certainly longer than it needed to be. However, it’s entertaining enough to get by and for fans of “The Shining” it hits some good nostalgic notes, even though some of it was too much. While the villains are forgettable, the cast is strong overall. 3 out of 5.
Photos courtesy Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment and Warner Bros.