Sleeping on the Source Material: A Review of “Doctor Sleep”/by Jared Vardaman

As a self-proclaimed horror movie connoisseur, when I heard that Doctor Sleep, the sequel to Stephen King’s 1977 horror bestseller The Shining, would be making its way to the big screen, my inner nerd leapt in excitement. I read the novel version, released in 2013, my senior year of high school, and to this day it is one of my favorite books. The aura, the horror/fantasy element, the story itself, and King’s attention to detail created what I consider to be one of his finest works. A week to the day after its release, I took my begrudging, non-horror fan girlfriend on the visual adventure that was Doctor Sleep.

The movie opens soon after the events of The Shining, with Danny Torrence (the little boy on the tricycle) recovering from his traumatizing experiences in the Overlook hotel. Danny has the titular supernatural gift of “shining” which allows him to communicate and interact with other worldly creatures who crave his shine. Even after Danny’s departure from the Overlook, the creatures haunt him relentlessly until he is taught to subconsciously lock them away by childhood friend Dick Hallorann, the former chef at the Overlook who also has the shining. 

The main story picks up as Danny, now Dan, played by Ewan MacGregor has grown to be an alcoholic just like his father. He drinks to suppress his shine, and after a troubling one-night stand, travels to Frazier, N.H., to start a new life. While there, he befriends a kind man named Billy Freeman, portrayed by Cliff Curtis, who helps him secure a job at a local hospice. Here, he earns the name “Doctor Sleep” by using his gifts to aid patients in dying peacefully. Dan is soon contacted by a young girl named Abra who is extremely gifted with the shining. Together, they help to bring down an ancient group of beings called the True Knot, who feed on the shine, or the steam, of children.

The movie itself stays pretty true to the book. One thing that can be said about the movie is that it is a little choppy in its sequencing, but having read the book I now realize how much they had to edit out in order to make the movie even realistically watchable. The Shining and Doctor Sleep both run about two and a half hours, and only show a fraction of the material contained in the novels.

Yet we can’t pass judgment on the film until we understand the context and scrutiny under which it was filmed. It is a well-known fact that Stephen King infamously hated the 1980 Stanley Kubrick directed movie adaption of his book, to the point that he helped to write and fund a separate mini-series that was more conscious of the source material. 

Fast forward almost 40 years from the movie’s original release, the movie adaption of Doctor Sleep is not only a sequel to the novel The Shining, but also the Kubrick movie adaption. This means that certain portions of the book are only relevant if the original novel is the main source material. Since it was not, several key aspects of the book had to be removed from the movie adaption of a Doctor Sleep.

As I sat, wide-eyed and mystified by this film which was bringing one of my favorite books to life, I felt a shift in the tone of the movie about three quarters of the way through. Slowly, to my dismay, I realized that, in order to honor the original movie adaption, they had to change King’s literary ending. And boy, did they change it.

I won’t go into vast detail in order to prevent spoilers, but if you’ve read the book, you know exactly when everything goes downhill. I mean come on! You don’t need guns, you need to visit Concetta!

While the movie adaption of Doctor Sleep’s ending was grand, terrifying, and ultimately fulfilling, it made this horror purist squirm in his seat for sheer thought of what it could have been had it stayed true to the source material.

Overall, from a moviegoer standpoint, the film was well-executed except for a few pacing issues. It had all of the ingredients of a great horror film, and used them to not only scare the audience, but to make them think. But, for sheer sake of the source material, I will give Doctor Sleep a solid 7/10.

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