Director Mike Flanagan successfully conveys the suspense of Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep”

Claire Zhang and Teju Anand

Director Mike Flanagan brings out the thrill in his adaption of Stephen King’s “Doctor Sleep”, sequel to the 1980 movie “The Shining”. The movie, released on Nov. 8 in the U.S., received a lackluster debut, only earning $14 million as compared to the expected $22 million. 

The movie opens with a young girl who has a special ability known as the “shine.” She meets Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who is part of a vampire group called the True Knot that feed on people’s “shine.” The young girl is reported missing after the encounter.

We are then introduced to Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), a troubled man who is still trying to cope with his childhood experience at the Overlook Hotel. His “shining” (psychic powers) allow him to see the ghost Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) who help him defeat the ghosts that haunt him. 

Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) is a young school girl who is still discovering her “shine”. She reveals her powers during her birthday party when she imitates a magician’s trick. However, after seeing her parents’ strange reaction, she keeps her powers to herself. 

Their worlds eventually collide when Dan meets Abra through their “shine”. They begin to develop a friendship despite not having met each other yet. After psychically seeing a traumatic event caused by the True Knot, Abra enlists the help of Dan to embark on a quest to put an end to the murderous “shine”-sucking vampires led by Rose the Hat.

As Dan and Abra’s quest begins, Flanagan uses a variety of elements to create a sense of thrill in the audience. 

Like “The Shining,” the film is longer than most Hollywood films. The two-and-a-half hour movie reflects the long length of Stephen King novels. The slow pacing of the movie gives time for the audience to understand the characters and build anticipation in the audience. Flanagan opts for a slow build-up to form a uniquely thrilling storytelling experience. 

Furthermore, Flanagan utilizes jump scares not in the traditional horror way, but as sound effects. Loud clanging and other sharp sounds are carefully inserted during suspenseful scenes to instill sudden fear in the audience. The soundtrack complements the mood of the scenes. “The Overlook,” which consists of menacing, drawn-out notes, was played during the long drive on the way to the Overlook Hotel to match Dan’s dread of arriving at the Overlook Hotel once more. 

The majority of the movie takes place during the night (or in darker scenes). Various shades of blue are prominent throughout the film to create a gloomy atmosphere, bringing out the horror aspect of the movie.

While the movie can be watched standalone, it is filled with many references that the viewer may not be able to understand if they haven’t watched “The Shining”. One of the most repeated references we saw was the old lady in the bathtub. As people who haven’t watched “The Shining,” we interpreted a meeting with the old lady in “Doctor Sleep” as some sort of ritual to show that the character has fully grown into their power. Although this reference seems to have some meaning, other references seem much more pointless. Some examples include Dan reliving his memories from the Overlook Hotel and his two-minute conversation with his father. Such scenes may bring a feeling of nostalgia back to “The Shining” fans, but don’t contribute much to the storyline.

“Dr. Sleep” is no masterpiece, but is definitely worth watching if you’re looking for a bit of thrill. While the “The Shining” references may seem like too much pointless fan service, Flanagan’s direction satisfied author Stephen King, who had long, public gripes with Stanley Kubrick’s (director of “The Shining”) rendition. King told EW, “All I can say is, Mike took my material, he created a terrific story, people who have seen this movie flip for it, and I flipped for it, too. Because he managed to take my novel of ‘Doctor Sleep,’ the sequel, and somehow weld it seamlessly to the Kubrick version of ‘The Shining’ the movie. So, yeah, I liked it a lot.”