Stephen King, the tireless author he is, in 2013 penned a sequel to his wildly popular novel The Shining. That book is Doctor Sleep, which has been adapted into a feature length film and obviously serves as a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film The Shining. King has always been unhappy with Kubrick's take, despite it being considered a classic piece of cinema. With Doctor Sleep, King worked closely with director-writer Mike Flanagan in order to right some of The Shining's wrongs while providing a story that differs from the original. The result is a moody, loyal sequel that starts off strong but limps to the finish line.

Sleep stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, newcomer Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind and Cliff Curtis, and picks up decades after The Shining. McGregor plays Dan Torrance, a survivor of the chilling events that took place at the Overlook Hotel. As an adult, Dan is a recovering alcoholic trying to get by, and he's kept his psychic abilities in check.

While on the way to recovery, Dan has psychic conversations with young Abra Stone (Curran), another person with special abilities. Their conversations become more frequent because Abra's shining is powerful; so powerful that she's drawn the attention of Rose the Hat (Ferguson), the leader of a cult who feeds upon people with the shining. After Abra inadvertently “looks in” on Rose and the cult taking a young boy's “steam” and killing him, Abra becomes Rose's next target. Dan, in turn, helps Abra fight Rose and her cult, creating a major conflict that's dangerous for all involved.

Doctor Sleep shares the same overall tone as The Shining, but itself is a separate, standalone film. The first and last half-hours reference The Shining and, if you haven't seen (or recently rewatched) it, then some scenes may be a little confusing. But Flanagan makes the rest its own by creating the world outside the Overlook Hotel. With the planet full of people with the shining, Doctor Sleep has a superhero feel that's more in line with M. Night Shyamalan's Unbreakable than the MCU or DCEU. It makes for a certain level of realism, despite it being a horror film.

Keeping its horror in mind, Doctor Sleep is plenty scary but at its core it's a redemption film. Although Abra is at the center, Dan's story is the most interesting. He experienced massive trauma as a child and those scars remain well into adulthood. Early on Dan is seen abusing alcohol and drugs and attempting to steal from a strange woman he slept with. He knew he needed to make a change, so with the help from kind stranger Billy Freeman (Curtis), Dan is able to clean up and rebuild his life. All of that is seen during the first half while Flanagan sets up backstories for Abra and Rose.

Dan's road to recovery isn't complete unless he helps someone else in kind; that's why he's helping Abra. It's Dan's chance to come full circle and it's the most rewarding aspect of Doctor Sleep.

Performances are strong with McGregor to be expected. He plays Dan as quiet and cordial, and would prefer to not draw any attention to himself. By using restraint, McGregor is fantastic playing a man on the mend who can relapse at the soonest stressful event. Thus, helping Abra is a risk – possible death tends to do that.

Ferguson is as charming as she is dangerous. She's memorable because this may be the most evil character she's played. She chews a bit of scenery without being distracting, and with her top hat she's likely created an iconic new Halloween costume.

Curran, despite this being her feature film debut, is good, too. Abra is a typical pre-teen, full of energy and confidence. It's easy to be confident, even arrogant, when you have special powers. But Curran balances that with a vulnerability that is displayed with her uncle-niece relationship with Dan. I'm just glad Abra isn't an annoying brat, but again, the prospect of death will keep anyone grounded.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is scary and entertaining and works besr if you know nothing about The Shining (or, if you're like Stephen King, disown that 1980 film). This is due mainly to recreated The Shining scenes, which will be unfairly compared, and because Doctor Sleep pace grinds to a halt when revisiting old events. I would've felt better if the flashbacks were actually taken from The Shining, but Flanagan and King seemingly wanted this to stand apart.

For the most part Doctor Sleep is The Shining for a new generation. That doesn't mean it's better, but this will do just fine.

3.5 stars out of 5


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