Updated: Nov 18, 2019
Sometimes, trauma leaves behind a shadow—a specter that hounds you throughout the rest of your life. Deny it, avoid it, run from it all you like; sooner or later, you’ll have to turn around and face the pain of your past, or else you’ll never find peace.
At the beginning of Doctor Sleep—the continuation of Stephen King’s The Shining, adapted for the screen by Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House)—Dan Torrance is haunted, both literally and figuratively, by the ghosts of his childhood experiences. With the aid of the Overlook Hotel’s sole benevolent spirit—Dick Hallorann, who paid the ultimate price for his efforts to rescue the boy and his mother in the first movie—he learns how to imprison his incorporeal pursuers, trapping them in metaphysical boxes inside his mind, but even this provides little comfort. Desperate to dull his Shine and silence the incessant voices in his head, he turns to booze, ironically transforming into a reflection of his abusive father. Later, he seeks a less toxic alternative to self-medication and discovers Alcoholics Anonymous; unfortunately, the organization’s platitudes and affirmations are merely a bandage, addressing the symptoms of Danny’s disease, not the cause. But a chance encounter with a fellow psychic—a teenage girl capable of incredible supernatural feats—and the coven of ravenous energy vampires (who behave like a commune of codependent drug addicts) hunting her forces our reluctant protagonist into a final, decisive confrontation with the bogeymen of his youth.
Doctor Sleep is currently underperforming at the box office—due in large part, I think, to the fact that its predecessor is held in such high esteem, considered by many viewers to be as sacred and untouchable as the Bible—which is a shame. Flanagan pays homage to Kubrick’s inimitable work, but crafts a totally distinct rhythm, style, and structure (indeed, it’s often closer in tone to fantasy than conventional horror). The result is a different beast altogether: more epic in the scope of its plot, but more intimate in its narrative focus. It unfolds the way a sequel should: respecting the events of the previous film without completely regurgitating its story, emphasizing genuine character development over shallow nostalgia (though the soundtrack and cinematography offer ample fan service), and with enough thematic depth to stand on its own merits.