While Stephen King’s work has never been a perfect match for me, I grooved on the recent It movies and was in the mood for something similar. Doctor Sleep (2019) is a sequel to The Shining, one of the few King books I’ve read. Riffing liberally off Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation, it picks up decades later and focuses on Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), a survivor of the terrifying events at the Overlook Hotel. Dan possesses significant telepathic powers, which he’s always called “the shine.” The powers haven’t done him much good; he’s still struggling with aimlessness, alcoholism, and the lingering impact of his childhood trauma. But he takes a step in the right direction when he finds a new home in small-town New Hampshire. With the help of AA sponsor Billy (Cliff Curtis), Dan gets an orderly job at a hospital clinic where he develops a reputation as “Dr. Sleep,” easing the elderly into the afterlife during their final moments. Although Dan is a loner, he develops an unexpected supernatural friendship with a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), another telepath who begins communicating with him from hundreds of miles away, via the blackboard in his apartment. Unfortunately, Abra’s power is so strong that it attracts the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), a villainous telepath who leads a small posse of similarly mind-powered individuals who feed off the “steam” of telepaths. When this group threatens Abra, Dan pries himself out of his cautious introversion to help her—which means facing, head on, the deep traumas of his past.
At two and a half hours, Doctor Sleep doesn’t exactly clock out its running time in the most efficient way, spinning up Dan’s story slowly and introducing us to Rose’s gang with the protracted recruitment of “Snakebite Andi” (Emily Alyn Lind), a cool character who ultimately doesn’t prove all that important. But viewers who get swept up in King’s secret supernatural underworld probably won’t mind the film’s gradual build, and it’s not like the pacing lags terribly throughout. More distracting, perhaps, are the flashback nods to the original film; director Mike Flanagan conjures a memorable enough atmosphere here, but when he nods and winks at the earlier Kubrick opus with visual references, it’s like being jarred physically into another era. Still, it’s an engaging enough paranormal adventure, especially noteworthy for Ferguson’s effective villainy; she’s been the best thing about the recent, otherwise forgettable Mission: Impossible movies, and it’s nice to get to see her sink her teeth into something more substantial. An entertaining chiller.