Doctor Sleep: How Do You Follow a Masterpiece?

November 13, 2019

DISCLAIMER: This article contains spoilers for Doctor Sleep.

Doctor Sleep is a recently released movie based on Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining. I want to preface this article by saying that Doctor Sleep is a great standalone horror movie. The characters are intriguing, it has an interesting premise, and the visuals and camerawork are truly astonishing and inventive. However, herein lies a problem. One could say that this movie should be judged as a standalone film. It’s technically based off of a Stephen King novel, therefore it should be viewed more as its own thing rather than The Shining 2. The issue with this stems from the marketing of the movie itself. After months of looking at posters, trailers, and screenshots in preparation for seeing Doctor Sleep, it is beyond apparent this film was promoted as a sequel and not a standalone story. There are constant visual and auditory callbacks to Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece, and the tagline is literally “dare to go back.” Like it or not, it’s undeniable that the main appeal of this film is the connection to its predecessor. However, when that’s taken into consideration, this movie completely crumbles. For the first 90 minutes or so, it has a strong identity that can stand on its own.

Unfortunately, once Dan returns to the Overlook Hotel, that identity is completely eclipsed by one of the most disappointing theatrical experiences I’ve ever had the displeasure of sitting through.”

Doctor Sleep is a very good movie; it’s just a shame that it’s such a horrible sequel.

Before seeing Doctor Sleep, I asked multiple students around the school how much they knew about The Shining. While looking over the answers, I noticed that there seemed to be two main groups of people. Those who had seen the movie before were more than happy to delve into its complex themes of isolationism and insanity, while people who hadn’t seen it only seemed to be aware of an elevator and an axe murderer. Doctor Sleep will easily satisfy the second group; it has plenty of direct callbacks to popular scenes and events from the original film. However, as someone who has an undying passion for watching and discussing The Shining, I was thoroughly let down. Yes, all the callbacks are here, but they’re completely soulless and hollow. They return to the hedge maze, but none of the suspense from the original scene is there. They return to the main room with the typewriter, but none of the confusion or horror from the original scene is there. They return to Room 237, but there’s no mystery as to what actually lies within. Many of the hotel’s illusions/residents return, but there’s no reason to care. Here, there’s no buildup. When they show the twins, they simply stand there. In the original movie, they do the same thing at first, but as the audience learns more about the past of the hotel, the twins begin to become a manifestation of that past that the Torrence family tries so desperately hard to avoid. They get scarier and scarier as the movie goes on. But they do nothing here. They’re simply a reminder that the first movie existed. Everything that made the first movie so special is completely washed away.

What has always made The Shining one of my favorite movies of all time is the complete ambiguity that’s present throughout the entire film. There is so much that we the audience do not know. We gradually find out more, but we have to fill in half of the picture ourselves. This has led to incredible mysteries that even today, nearly 4 decades after the original movie’s release, fans are still trying to decisively solve. Here, we get answers to most of those questions. How much does the spirit of the hotel legitimately interfere? Now we know. Who exactly was Lloyd? Was he really the caretaker? Why did he tell Jack that he was never the caretaker when he so clearly was? Now we know. And it all feels empty. The Shining was never just a movie about ghosts, and this movie doesn’t understand that. Simply showing all of these things doesn’t warrant their inclusion. Everything feels forced, it’s all so artificial. It’s all wrong.

It’s reasonable to raise the question if this was something that even should have been attempted in the first place. How are you even supposed to try and follow up a masterpiece like The Shining? To me, a good sequel should aspire to reinvent the wheel while understanding and retaining the great aspects of the original. Aliens does that. Terminator 2 does that. The Dark Knight does that. Doctor Sleep doesn’t do that. If they decided to cut out the entire sequence in the Overlook Hotel, I would love this movie. But instead, it’s painfully bogged down with a horrible third act that completely misunderstands the original movie. It works very well as a standalone movie, but as a sequel, it’s horrendous.

So, how do you follow up a masterpiece? Not like this.

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