There’s a lot to unpack in the first trailer for Doctor Sleep, starting with what it actually is. The forthcoming film, slated for a Halloween premiere, is an adaptation of the 2013 horror novel by Stephen King — but this isn’t just any Stephen King horror novel.
Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shining. The film stars Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance, Jack Torrance’s trike-riding, “Redrum”-intoning son. Now he’s grown up and being haunted by demons from his past, while also experiencing new occurrences of “the shining,” the strange psychic power that allows him to communicate telepathically — and arguably even see into the past and future, giving him premonitions of horrors to come and brushes with strange beings who traverse time.
Danny’s abilities also seem to link him to King’s sprawling multiverse, which interconnects many of King’s novels by joining his vast different worlds and timelines across spacetime. These worlds are tied together both through metaphysical portals and the psychic visions of people like Danny. Among them is a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who’s dealing with her own troubling visions. Abra, Danny, and others like them seem to be pursued by an evil cult of other psychics, known in the novel as the True Knot.
The trailer doesn’t make the cult’s purpose clear, but their leader, a woman called Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), doesn’t seem to be human — and Danny seems to think that, whatever Rose is, it’s related to the strange beings he saw in the demonic Overlook Hotel as a child.
As he tries to uncover the secret of his powers and keep Abra safe, Danny seems to be drawn deeper into the past. The trailer leans heavily on his childhood experiences in The Shining, dropping in references and clips from the 1980 Stanley Kubrick masterpiece. The story even appears to be sending Danny back in time to retrace his father’s bloodcurdling final trek through the hotel. That can’t bode well for anyone.
Director Mike Flanagan is a good fit for this adaptation, but The Shining’s legacy looms large
At the helm of this new big-screen adaptation is horror’s current golden goose, Mike Flanagan, director of a string of unabashed successes like Hush, Ouija 2, and Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House. Flanagan clearly has the chops to deliver films that combine great pacing and suspense with a lot of humanistic warmth, but when left to his own devices, he tends to take lots of narrative shortcuts and sometimes fumbles the ending.
The good news for horror fans and King fans, however, is that Flanagan’s already successfully helmed one King adaptation, Netflix’s Gerald’s Game (2017). Flanagan is at his best when he’s adapting someone else’s story, and there’s plenty of story to play with in Doctor Sleep, which was critically acclaimed as well as widely admired by King’s readers. Margaret Atwood, author of The Handmaid’s Tale, noted in her review of the book for the New York Times that King is quintessentially a writer of family connections and family history, and this is unquestionably the subject that Flanagan loves most.
Despite Flanagan’s compatibility with his subject, however, there’s one extremely interesting hurdle for Doctor Sleep to overcome: King’s famous hatred of Kubrick’s film version of The Shining. Though his animosity toward it seems to have lessened in later years, the main things he held against it — that Kubrick jettisoned too much context from his film and that it was seriously misogynistic — are pretty valid complaints. Doctor Sleep also has to overcome the movie’s infamous use of the “Magical Negro” trope, which will hopefully be possible through the attention given to Abra, who is black.
Still, The Shining is a major cinematic masterwork, and Doctor Sleep clearly plans to liberally reference it, revisit it, and even remix it. Just as a creative experiment, the movie looks well worth the price of admission to many moviegoers, particularly fans of the older film. If you got a tiny thrill to hear that final synthesized “Dies Irae” blaring from your screen once more, then this is probably the film for you.
Doctor Sleep opens in US theaters on November 8, 2019.