I had planned to try and view this prior to recording our most recent Shallow & Pedantic podcast, but didn’t get around to it. Nevertheless, with the absorption of all things Shining, it was bound to happen. So we grabbed it at the library and gave it a watch.
Sequels are a delicate business. In order to have any hope of being worthy of the original, it must have more story to tell (Empire Strikes Back), or at any rate build upon the universe without breaking the spirit of it (Back to the Future, Part 2). Unnecessary sequels transform a movie into a slog of repetition, slowly bleeding the point away (The Hangover).
As a sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep largely succeeds in this. It helps that, as with Trainspotting 2, a sequel novel existed to draw from. Exploring how grown-up Dan Torrance deals with the legacy of his traumatic childhood isn’t boring (and as with Trainspotting 2, Ewan McGregor is good in the lead role. It’s one of the best things I’ve seen him do recently). The world of Doctor Sleep builds on that of the first story without repeating it.
Until it does repeat it. Because the Kubrick film of The Shining veered so hard away from the King novel (do check out our aforementioned podcast for a discussion of how hard), a movie attempting as it must to be a sequel to both has to take us back to the Overlook Hotel. We have to have Tub Lady and Grady and “Come Play With Us Danny”. We have to have the Hedge Maze. We have to see Danny sitting at the bar, just like Jack did.
And because of that, we’re forced into an ending that was borrowed from the first novel, which frankly misses the point. I won’t spoil it for you, but it commits the Prime Sequel Sin of Undercutting the First Story. In movie logic, the ending makes sense. But I would have preferred something different, even if that violated what has become convention.
It’s a shame, because there’s a good movie in here, that had it stuck the landing, could have deservedly gone on to cult status. As it stands, though, all work and no play makes Dan a cliche.