Doctor Sleep: A Book & Movie Review

I read The Shining in my Popular Fiction class in college. I was one of those people who hadn’t seen the Stanley Kubrick film before reading the book, so when I finally did watch it, I had mixed feelings. I loved the cinematography, score, and a mounting sense of dread the film imparts. And the iconic bloody elevator scene? Pure magic. But some of the other choices — like changing the ending and reducing Wendy to little more than a scream queen — made me question why we bothered translating books into film in the first place. 

When I read that Stephen King was writing a continuation of The Shining, I was gassed. I devoured the book, Doctor Sleep, in just a few days. I loved it. It’s one of my favorite King novels, so when I heard they were making a movie of it, I was once again happy but wondered how they’d translate much of the content onto the screen. I saw the movie on Friday. Here’s what I thought.

A Quick Synopsis 

For those that don’t know what Doctor Sleep is about, here’s a quick synopsis. Danny Torrance is all grown up. An alcoholic with a temper that rivals his father’s, Dan soon hits rock bottom. Looking for a change, he ends up in Frazier, New Hampshire. There he gets a job as an orderly at the local hospice. He gets a room, a sponsor, and becomes sober. Dan soon becomes known as “Doctor Sleep” for his ability to help dying patients in their final moments. 

Meanwhile, a girl named Abra is born and right away her parents notice her unique abilities — abilities that seem an awful lot like the Shining. As the years pass, Abra and Dan form a psychic connection. Abra is powerful. So powerful that she draws the attention of the True Knot, a group of vampiric nomads who live off the life essences of children who Shine. As the True Knot closes in on Abra, Dan goes to extraordinary lengths to save her. 


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Book vs Movie

Doctor Sleep the movie is a total homage to both the book and the Kubrick film. Fans of the book will be happy to note that the majority of the source material is the same, down to the dialogue. The director (Mike Flanagan, who also directed the brilliant Haunting of Hill House series on Netflix) removed some characters and combined a few, which works well for the film. Additionally, the scene in which the Knot is feeding on a child is delightfully creepy, down to the blue flashing of their eyes.

One change that I found to have hurt the film is the (spoiler alert) decision to change the motivations of the True Knot for wanting Abra. She is a powerful kid and desired by the Knot for two reasons. The first is that the group is starving due to their primary food source drying up — there just aren’t enough “steamheads” anymore. The second is that the group needs steam because many of them are sick from the measles, which they contracted from the last boy they killed. Only the first reason was presented in the film. To me, the Knot being sick from an illness they didn’t think would affect them in any way added to the fact that they are losing strength. It ratcheted up the tension, in a way that I didn’t think existed in the film. 

Additionally, the film really showcased Abra’s power. While I enjoyed seeing such a strong female character (and one of mixed race, like me) I felt that the tension between her and the eponymous leader of the Knot, Rose the Hat, needed to be higher. Even watching the movie knowing that in the end (again spoilers) the Knot is defeated, I still wanted to feel some doubt that Abra and Dan would win. 

That said, the movie features several tie-ins to the Kubrick film, including the creepy horn-led intro song, similar shot arrangement, the iconic bloody elevator scene, and even the Big Wheel scene where Danny runs into the twins and then stumbles on room 237. Additionally, there are other Easter eggs to iconic horror films, which I won’t spoil for you here. 

Overall, I thought this was a solid adaptation, albeit with a tad less tension. I highly recommend it,  but suggest you read the book first. 

Have you read Doctor Sleep or seen the movie? What did you think? 

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