Even after escaping the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) remains haunted by the ghosts, both literal and figurative, of his past. Just as he gets his life together, a strong Shining presence alerts him to a girl (Kyliegh Curran) who needs his help facing a new threat to their unique powers.
It’s always going to be challenging following up one of the most successful horror movies (and novels) with a sequel. The ending to The Shining, in both forms, was so compelling that it didn’t need further resolution. However, Stephen King’s 2013 follow-up novel has now been taken to the big screen by horror director Mike Flanagan. Despite his impressive track record (Oculus and another King adaptation, Gerald’s Game), he fails to make Doctor Sleep memorable.
The narrative splits into three segments clumsily tied together in a bloated 130-minute plus run time. The first segment focuses on Danny Torrance’s addiction issues that plague him into adulthood. Dan is an aggressive alcoholic drifter only kept in check by the ghost of fellow ‘Shiner’ and former Overlook chef, Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly). This first segment gives us enough to connect with Dan and develop some of the other characters but does little to build tension or a sense of dread. The second segment switched focus to the True Knot, a gang of pseudo-Shiners on the hunt for people with psychological powers to consume. We get very little insight into who this group is or how they assembled, which takes away from their menace. As the True Knot hunt for Danny and a schoolgirl called Abra, the game of psychological cat-and-mouse quickly becomes repetitive. The final segment sees Danny and Abra flee to the decrepit Overlook Hotel for a showdown with the True Knot’s leader, Rosie (Rebecca Ferguson). The decision to return is poorly explained but does make for an interesting finale in which Danny is forced to face the ghosts of his past. All in all, the plot is a mess of over-long and disparate sequences that could have done with another (intensive) round of editing.
Flanagan’s directing, while mostly rolling with the motions, does have some interesting moments. There were some excellent shot-for-shot callbacks to The Shining, and the sequence at the Overlook Hotel is captured in truly dreadful detail as the film climaxes. Additionally, while the psychological warfare waged between the True Knot and Danny and Abra was too long, Flanagan did well to embody the grim imagery of their battle.
In the acting department there isn’t very much to write home about either. Ewan McGregor is fine as Danny Torrance, and Cliff Curtis is decent as his friend Billy. Rebecca Ferguson is unconvincing as the near-ageless True Knot Leader, and there is little note from the rest of the cast. Kyliegh Curran performs well as Abra, however, demonstrating acting skills beyond her years.
Doctor Sleep, top to bottom, just isn’t good. Critical reviews seem to herald it as original and refreshing – as a drama it says nothing new, as a horror it isn’t scary. The only time it gets exciting is when it makes obvious Shining references.