The last time we saw Danny Torrance, son of Jack and Wendy Torrance by way of Stephen King, he was a young boy who had trapped his father in a deadly maze outside The Overlook Hotel. In Stanley Kubrick’s film “The Shining” little Danny has psychic powers known as the “shining.” A new film, “Doctor Sleep,” brings us up to date on Danny’s later life and the effects of family tauma.
Now going by the more adult name Dan (Ewan McGregor), Torrance is still haunted by the events of his youth. Alcoholic and unhappy, he pursues peace by working in a hospice, using his unique power to comfort the dying. His patients call him Doctor Sleep and soon his work, along with the help of AA, help him overcome his torment. His tranquility is undone when he meets psychic teenager Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). “You’re magic,” Abra says, “like me.” “I don’t know about magic,” Dan replies. “I always called it “the shining.”
Abra’s abilities—“Her head is like a radio that sometimes picks up strange stations.”—have caught the attention of the True Knot, a tribe of demonic psychics led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), an almost-immortal being who feeds off children’s telepathic abilities to prolong her own life. “They eat screams and drink pain,” says Dan’s mentor-in-shining Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly). To battle Rose and her evil minions Danny must face his greatest fear, returning to the psychological horrors of the Overlook Hotel.
The spirit of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” hangs heavy over “Doctor Sleep”—visual homages and callbacks abound—but where the 1980 film is an exercise in icy exterior thrills the new one, directed by Mike “Oculus” Flanagan, brings a thaw to the action. He has opened up the action and the characters. Kubrick created claustrophobia by setting the action mostly in the closed off rooms and hallways of the Overlook Hotel while Flanagan, who also wrote the script, lets the characters roam free, exploring the world around them and the inner workings of their extra-special-psyches. It makes for a much different feeling film that contains similar amounts of suspense—although it must be said, not nearly the same level of outright fear—but an added dose of emotional resonance and friendship.
McGregor is never quite as compelling as Jack Nicholson was in the original film but the supporting characters pick up much of the slack. As Abra, Curran is the most compelling character on screen. Fearless and resilient, she has an open heart and it is her friendship with Torrance that brings his lifelong journey for peace to a head. In one nicely rendered scene Dan speaks through her in a moment ripe with danger. Curran embodies the character and it is eerie to see the thirteen-year-old take on the weight of her adult counterpart.
Ferguson plays Rose the Hat as a bohemian villain. Callous and cruel, she brings a much-needed sense of unpredictability and danger to a story that isn’t particularly scary. It’s atmospheric and the character work brings us in, but it likely won’t haunt your dreams with the exception of one scene.
(MILD SPOILER ALERT) The True Knot believe that pain purifies the “steam,” the essence of their victims, which leads to a very unpleasant scene involving the demise of Jacob Tremblay as a young baseball player. You either remember him as the vulnerable child in “Room” or the foul-mouthed star of “Good Boys,” but this grim scene will give you new, nasty memories of his work.
“Doctor Sleep” often feels like a tribute to “The Shining” but brings enough of its own ideas on the effects of childhood trauma and the lingering pain of a shattered family to add richness and originality to the movie.