REVIEW: DOCTOR SLEEP is a worthy follow-up to Kubrick’s THE SHINING that enrichens the original while giving us a sequel with a compelling premise.


Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Hush, Gerald’s Game) successfully tackles the herculean effort of reconciling Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of THE SHINING with two Stephen King novels and delivers a film that works for fans of the film and books alike.

The Shining is something of a sacred film text for horror fans. Director Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film sports some of the most iconic characters, performances, and set pieces in horror film history. The very design of the carpet of the Overlook Hotel is shorthand for hardcore horror fandom; utilized in socks, carpet runners, backpacks, lunchpails, and even cardigan sweaters. While the film itself is beloved, for its imagery and iconic performances by Jack Nicholson, Scatman Crothers, and Shelley Duvall, Stephen King has long gone on record as despising Kubrick’s adaptation. So much so, that King himself filmed a miniseries remake of The Shining in 1997 to address his issues. In 2013, King penned a sequel to The Shining entitled Doctor Sleep, featuring an adult Danny Torrance who has suffered many of the same trials and tribulations with alcoholism that his father did in the original. That being said, Warner Brothers knows that fans have a deep connection to Kubrick’s version and were a film adaptation of Doctor Sleep to happen, it would have to address disparities between the film version and both of King’s novels, as well as address issues King had with the original. Director Mike Flanagan, who has successfully helmed a King adaptation in Gerald’s Game and who King has been a fan of for his atmospheric work on Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House was tasked with this effort. An effort that has paid off as Doctor Sleep is the most compelling King adaptation since 2017’s It and one of the most entertaining films of the year.

DOCTOR SLEEP kicks off a year after the events of The Shining. Danny and Wendy (Alex Essoe channeling a dead-on Shelley Duvall invocation) are living in Florida. Danny is still haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook, who know follow him and haunt him to try and feed off his Shining. He is able to sense and speak to the dead and via this aspect of his Shine, he is able to talk to the ghost of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly doing a spot-on channeling Scatman Crothers). Dick tells Doc that there is a way to use his Shine to lock those spirits away so he won’t be haunted by them, which helps Danny move forward in his life. Cue to 2011 and Dan is in the throes of alcoholism to try and dull The Shining. A tragedy leads him to New Hampshire and here after 8 years, he is able to use his ability to commune with the dead to help those in need pass over, becoming known in the hospice community as Doctor Sleep. While this is happening, we are introduced to Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), a member of a coven called The True Knot who has figured out a way to become immortal by feeding off the Shine of others like energy vampires. The Knot is desperate for more Shine in the world to stay alive and find a girl named Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran), who has a connection to Dan and could be the most powerful person gifted with The Shining. It becomes imperative to keep Abra away from The Knot, and only Dan may be able to help if he can overcome the demons of his past.

The novel Doctor Sleep is not the best follow-up to The Shining. Flanagan perhaps wisely, largely changes most of the book and combines it with unused plot elements from the original novel version of The Shining in a way that supplements themes from the original film in a way that feels organic. As much as Doctor Sleep is Dan’s story, it is also Abra’s and Curran gives a compelling performance and the film shines when she is on-screen, pun-intended. McGregor imbues Dan with the pathos of a hard life lived, one where he initially encourages Abra to hide from The Knot. But the arcs of both characters complement themselves well and much attention is giving to developing a rich rapport between the two and seeing how Dan and Abra are the way they are. Similarly, Rose and The True Knot could be generic ghouls, but Flanagan takes the time to show us the relationships between them and why it is important for them to find more Shine or “steam” to feed off of. The Knot is reminiscent of the vampires in The Lost Boys or Near Dark in feeling like characters with their own personalities and motivations, specifically Crow Daddy (Westworld and Fargo’s Zahn McClarnon giving an amazing performance) and Grandpa Flick (Twin Peaks’ and Addams Family’s Carel Struycken). Ferguson’s Rose is the best type of villain in an ensemble like this, the overly arrogant leader who only knows their world view but sees themselves as the most worthy being in the scenario. She oozes charisma and her interactions with Dan and Abra are some of the best scenes in the whole film. Flanagan’s film is very well-paced and keeps you on edge throughout. The score by The Newton Brothers echoes Wendy Carlos’ themes and queues from the original throughout with added dissonance and ambiance. The film mimics Kubrick’s style throughout with signature fadeout transitions. Flanagan is still able to inject his style throughout and the film largely builds on tension and atmosphere, sans jumpscares.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is the best possible sequel you could get to The Shining given it’s been 40 years since the original film. While the film doesn’t hue closely to the source material of its namesake novel, it takes enough from King’s work to feel like an improvement upon the text and delivers a film that marries disparate sources to give us a fuller and more developed epilogue to 1980’s The Shining and doesn’t diminish the original in any way. Coupled with strong performances throughout, this is one of the best horror films this year with one of the best stories about consequences and debts you’re likely to see on the big screen this year.