The Overlook Hotel lays dormant, at the end of long and twisty road, the ghosts of its inhabitants hungry for living souls, its windows darkened by piles of snow. For forty years its waited and plagued the memory of those who suffered under its wickedness, none so much than its youngest victim, Danny Torrance. Doctor Sleep picks up almost exactly at the point The Shining left off and takes us not only through Danny’s evolution from an innocent little boy to a homeless alcoholic, but also shows us something else. It shows us that Danny is not alone in his telepathic ability, there are many others like him. Not only that, but there are people who hunt children like Danny and devour them in order to live forever.
Doctor Sleep introduces us to a world beyond The Overlook Hotel that is perhaps even darker and more horrifying than what we’ve already come to know. Danny learns from a young age, only a couple of weeks after leaving the hotel, that the ghosts trapped inside it feed on his physic ability. He finds a way to lock the ghosts up in a box in his mind, compartmentalizing what he fears and literally locking it away. While Danny considers himself to be safe for now, we are introduced to The True Knot, a band of outcasts who have their own psychic abilities and hunt children who shine, just like Danny. Led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Furgason), this misfit bunch is despicable and desperate for eternal life. By inhaling the ‘steam’ that these children emit while they are dying enables her and her friends to significantly extend their life spans and the more afraid and in pain the children are, the better and purer the steam is. Rose can either kill or turn those who shine like Danny and we experience her doing both. Meanwhile, Danny – now Dan (Ewan McGregor) – is all grown up. He is a low life alcoholic and homeless but he is given a chance to change when he moves to a small New Hampshire town. Billy, a friendly local, offers him a place to stay and a job at a local hospice. While Dan gets his life together, we are also introduced to Abra (Kyliegh Curren), an only child who’s psychic ability is phenomenally strong and unlike Danny, she is acutely aware of what she can do. Abra, Dan and Rose all become entwined in a vast story that takes them all over the country, a story that ends back in Colorado at the decrepit and decaying Overlook Hotel, which has been waiting for Dan to return for almost forty years.
Stephen King famously hated the version of The Shining that Stanley Kubrick made back in 1980, and Kubrick would often call King late at night, taunting him so it is strange to see so much of Kubrick’s The Shining in Doctor Sleep. Mike Flanagan approached King about this when he first decided he wanted to direct the adaptation. He said that he didn’t want to make it unless he had King’s blessing. He planned to keep the film as close to the book as possible but wanted to use Stanley Kubrick’s version of The Overlook Hotel in his film. Stephen King initially shot this down and said no to Flanagan, but Flanagan refused to give up and instead he wrote an ending that brought Kubrick’s version of The Shining and King’s Doctor Sleep together, bridging the gap between the two. After explaining this further to King and talking through some scenes, King changed his mind and allowed Flanagan to use Kubrick’s version of the hotel. King read the script carefully and deduced that all of the liberties Kubrick had taken with The Shining, had been redeemed in Flanagan’s script. The film’s success leans heavily on the fact that it is a sequel to The Shining and that the we are taken back to The Overlook Hotel which stands as it did when we last saw it. At the end of the film when Dan returns to the hotel, he slowly walks through its halls, bringing it back to life. He goes back to their apartment in the hotel, peeks through the axed hole in the door, sees ‘redrum’ written on the door, glances at the bathroom window he escaped from. He visits the bar where he comes face to face with the ghost of his father, also an alcoholic, taunting him with a drink. The typewriter still has paper in it, the floor is still stained with Dick Halloran’s blood. It’s all there, exactly as we left it and we haven’t been back as long as Dan hasn’t so when he moves through the hotel, we are with him, every step of the way, breath caught in our chest, terrified of what the hotel might throw at us. Thankfully Stephen King was thrilled with the final film and congratulated Flanagan on seamlessly bringing the two films together.
The film’s strengths lie within its connections to The Shining, which provide some surreal moments throughout. For example, the view from Dan’s apartment window in one scene is the view of the lake that leads up to The Overlook and the meeting with the man who runs his AA meeting takes place in the same office as his father had his interview for the position of the Overlooks caretaker 40 years previous. The deep heartbeat we are so familiar with echoes throughout the film in its more intense moments and the scenes that take place in the hotel at the end replicate moments from The Shining. The importance of incorporating so many elements from The Shining in with Doctor Sleep is not just a gimmick but it serves a strong purpose that even though Dan has locked up the monsters in his mind, the Overlook is such a big part of him and who he is. Those who know The Shining well will pick up on all these little moments and for everyone else, it would just all seem a bit off and strange. Thus creating Dan’s world as on the fringes of reality. His years of alcohol abuse and traumatizing childhood have had a detrimental effect on him, all of it comes from The Overlook and more specifically, his father.
The additional narrative of the True Knot provides a really creative counterpoint to Danny and Abra and serves as a much more menacing enemy than the ghouls locked in Danny’s mind. These are real people, evil and twisted and unrelenting. They are hungry for eternal life, hungrier than the ghosts locked in the Overlook and if they can kidnap Abra, then they can feed off her for eternity. Rebecca Ferguson is brilliant as Rose the Hat, she is as much aloof and whimsical as she is terrifying and her naturally ambiguous accent contributes to the mystery of Rose’s own origin. She and the True Knot are like a family, they very rarely turn people as there isn’t as much steam to go around so they need all they can get. However, she sees potential in a young girl named Snakebite Andi, who can control people to do her will. Turning her strengthens their group and makes capturing young children who are more cautious of strangers than they used to be, a whole lot easier. While sometimes the True Knot can be overly theatrical, their general presence causes unease, the almost orgasmic reaction to inhaling steam is uncomfortable, especially when it is juxtaposed with a young boy dying an agonising death.
Doctor Sleep is a sprawling story covering an almost forty-year period. It is intricate and involving and creates a world where physic vampires hunt and kill children, a world where a hotel is a malevolent spirit, feeding off the living and a world where there is a promise of a life after death. While you don’t necessarily have to have seen The Shining to watch and enjoy this film, it would certainly deepen the films meaning if you do.
Doctor Sleep premieres on HBO on Saturday 27th June at 8pm
As an HBO Watch writer since 2013, I have covered a wide variety of shows from Eastbound and Down to Game of Thrones. I am also a huge Stanley Kubrick enthusiast having written my undergraduate thesis on 2001: A Space Odyssey. Outside of the world of film and TV I am an avid baker and teach 16-18 year olds how to use cameras.