Doctor Sleep: Is It A Worthy Sequel To The Shining?

When film fans learned that after nearly four decades, an official sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 horror masterpiece, The Shining, would be coming to theaters, there was an almost instant skepticism. Film purists expressed their nervousness about such an undertaking, while fans of original author Stephen King remained optimistic that Doctor Sleep—the book on which the new film was based—would retain the elements that had made the surprise follow-up novel a bestseller. But would the film adaptation live up to its cinematic predecessor? As the movie flopped in theaters, it was expected to disappear into obscurity, but a second life in streaming has slowly granted Doctor Sleep a devoted following—and re-ignited the debate surrounding its own cinematic merits. Now, YouTubers weigh in on the Mike Flanagan-helmed sequel, and discuss it as a worthy second chapter to Kubrick’s beloved The Shining. As many commentators remarked—Chris Stuckmann among them—the true merits of Doctor Sleep only begin to show themselves once the knee-jerk reflex of comparing it to The Shining subsides:

This film flows beautifully. The shots linger onscreen for just the right amount of time, it’s extremely unsettling … [Mike Flanagan]’s really great at giving you the creeps and, as he proved with [The Haunting of Hill House], he is not interested in what most people would assume is a ‘horror movie.’ The way he directs, his films don’t come off like the horror films that are usually more popular nowadays: the scare every few minutes, along with a loud jolt of music—also known as a ‘jump scare’—there are some in this movie, but they feel earned, even necessary, to the plot and to the character.

In his own review, YouTuber Jeremy Jahns stated that the film did, indeed, satisfy as both a standalone thriller and logical follow-up to The Shining, but also acknowledged the difficulty that director Mike Flanagan and a stellar cast—including Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, and newcomer Kyliegh Curran—faced when even attempting to craft such a sequel. Jahns stated:

When you’re watching it, it does fundamentally come across as a Stephen King story, [but] does it come across as a Stanley Kubrick movie? This movie does have ‘Stanley Kubrick-isms’ to remind you that, yeah, this is a sequel to a Stanley Kubrick movie—which is funny because it’s famous, if not a little infamous, that Stephen King did not like Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, and which I imagine made this a very difficult task to take on.

However, there were many fans and commentators who insisted on viewing Doctor Sleep first and foremost, as a sequel, as even author Stephen King had intended. And to some, in that regard, the second installment doesn’t hold up—particularly when comparisons to The Shining are not only inevitable, but unavoidable. In her review of the film, YouTuber Grace Randolph at Beyond the Trailer, stated:

I feel that it’s more Stephen King than Stanley Kubrick … This didn’t feel like a sequel to 1980’s The Shining whatsoever. In fact, we don’t get to the Overlook hotel until the last 30 minutes or so—and it felt like even less time—of a two-and-a-half-hour movie. And when we do get there, everything is a mere shadow of [the first] film.

One of Randolph’s point of contentions was the film’s series of flashbacks, which necessitated the return of such iconic characters from the first film as Jack Nicholson’s Jack Torrance and Shelley Duvall’s Wendy—little Danny’s parents around which The Shining is entirely based. For Doctor Sleep, director Mike Flanagan opted to recast those roles, which either drew harsh criticism or high praise among online commentators. As Randolph remarked:

Something they didn’t get right was Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. They have actors playing those [original] roles, and they’re so bad that part of me felt that writer-director Mike Flanagan maybe intentionally went another direction, thinking, ‘I’ll never get anyone as good as Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall, so I’m just going to get people who are horrible because no one could hope to compare … But considering how it turned out, I would have preferred weird digital stand-ins for Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall to what we get here—I mean, it was almost just sad.

In YouTuber Chris Stuckmann’s opinion, recasting was not the best choice, but the sheer characterization and world-building of the second film was actually one of its greatest strengths. Stuckmann added:

That’s the way to do ‘fan service’—you don’t throw it all at the beginning and get people invested because they already like this shit. No—Flanagan’s very smart. He made a movie with real fucking characters with great actors and phenomenal directing … Doctor Sleep isn’t a film that is filled to the brim with ghosts and demons, you know, horror shit that you’re used to seeing. It’s a movie about its characters, and it follows them on a perilous journey—and it’s told in a way that’s very suspenseful and filled with tension.

The YouTubers at Double Toasted agreed with Stuckmann on this point, indicating value of The Shining’s core family dynamic and its real-world problems—along with the aftermath of those tumultuous relationships, even many years later, as seen in Doctor Sleep. Double Toasted stated:

I like that with the original film … [it] was really about a family unit falling apart … One of my favorite scenes in The Shining is actually when they are driving up to the Overlook Hotel, and you have Jack Nicholson just not wanting to [hear his family]. He was someone who was constantly on-edge … But I liked how you saw the de-evolution of this family—without the ghosts … And I liked how at the ending of Doctor Sleep, you see the aftermath of that.

That point was one of the few elements that Grace Randolph at Beyond the Trailer liked, as she continued in her own review:

I also felt that Danny’s [Alcoholics Anonymous] speech about feeling closer to his father when drunk, and the actual conversation he has with his father’s ghost at the Overlook, were very well-done and very insightful, and that was more of what I was looking for in a sequel to The Shining.

Looking at the film specifically as its own standalone story, the YouTubers at Half in the Bag remained on the fences, both praising Mike Flanagan’s auteur approach in tackling an original story but, in the process, removing the epic scale that Stanley Kubrick has used in The Shining. They commented:

I don’t get a strong visual sense. I kept watching scenes from this movie and they kind of look like a Netflix show—like done quickly and flat, and I just wanted more [grittiness], more contrast, more dynamic images in a horror movie … The Haunting of Hill House is probably more visual than this, which is weird.

However, Half in the Bag was complimentary towards Doctor Sleep in its attempts to both distance itself from The Shining, while also carefully toeing the line in linking the two films together as one universe, adding:

It’s mostly character-driven, doesn’t get flashy unless it needs to be … A lot of the dialogue seems to me [that] for a movie that, tonally, seems so different than The Shining, I still felt a connection between the characters from that movie to this movie, which is a pretty fucking big accomplishment.

YouTuber Jeremy Jahns also saw fit to tackle the subject of mandatorily viewing—or, in many cases, re-viewing—The Shining in preparation of seeing Doctor Sleep for the first time. Like many other commentators, he claimed this irrelevant, as the second film does indeed stand on its own. Jahns remarked:

Now, do you have to watch The Shining if you’re going to watch this movie? … For the thrills and the supernatural horror element—with this cult coming after people and coming after kids—it works fine on its own. But when it starts bringing The Shining into it, [while] you’re not going to be lost, because you’re going to get what it’s saying, it’s not going to mean much to you.

Jahns concluded:

Doctor Sleep stands on its own its horror element, [and] it also serves as a proper sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. I felt it delved deeper into the lore of The Shining and it actually has its own message about how we live in a less spiritual world these days, and what it means for that universe.

On this point, YouTuber Grace Randolph at Beyond the Trailer sharply disagrees, finding specific fault with Doctor Sleep as lacking the proper suspense and horror tropes to make it either a successful sequel or a worthy horror film in its own right. Randolph added:

I also felt the movie didn’t deliver. Basically, you’ve got telepaths fighting on the astral plane—like when we get right down to it, that’s what’s going on here. And while Doctor Sleep offers an awful lot of build-up and teases highly-powerful telepaths about to duke it out, those battles, when they do happen—and again, that’s rare—are surprisingly short and small-scale.

In contrast, while admitting that The Shining had long been a personal favorite of his, Chris Stuckmann remained impressed with many elements of Doctor Sleep, and predicted that, over time, it would be capable of garnering the same type of word-of-mouth and eventual reassessments that have made The Shining a modern classic. Stuckmann concluded:

I loved Doctor Sleep. I think it’s a really, really good horror movie. No, it’s not as good as The Shining, and it was never going to be. Come on—I mean, that’s even fair. The Shining has had decades of time to become as iconic as it is … I don’t think there’s even a point in comparing them because this film is also trying to be something very different than [The Shining], in that it isn’t always focused on what you might call haunted house scares.

To many, Doctor Sleep is worth watching primarily for the film that it aims to be: a sequel and a standalone—a unique hybrid that pays reverence to the film of which it is an extension, while offering many thrills to new viewers merely wish to see a good, thought-provoking horror film that does not fall back on the current tropes of modern horror offerings. The YouTubers at Double Toasted concluded:

I think that because of the fact that this just happens to be a sequel to The Shining, people are going to dislike it automatically because it’s not a Kubrick movie … and I just don’t think that’s fair. It does stand on its own and for people to kind of dismiss it as a ‘try-hard’ horror thriller when it’s really introducing new elements [and] it’s focused on world-building, showing where these characters have grown … I think that’s kind of special.