The best parts in Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining (1980), do without Stanley Kubrick and Stephen King’s sense of gigantism. It’s not a haunted house movie trying to end all haunted house movies, even as it reprises shots of Danny pedaling his Big Wheel down endless hallways.
Director Mike Flanagan sources David Lynch, who scares me more than Kubrick ever did. The music is also familiar even beyond the quotes of Wendy Carlos’s Moog of Doom from The Shining, there’s that echoing violin screech they’ve been using since Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
We commence with a pack of non-humans. Like the other-world denizens in Twin Peaks, they live on “steam”—the distilled essence of pain and suffering. The best quality is hard to come by, complains Rose the Hat, the queen bee of this traveling coven. Something’s polluting the essences these days.
The lovely and malign Rose (Rebecca Ferguson) is kind of a witch, kind of a vampire. Though her age and exact backstory are vague, she might have become whatever she is now about the time Guns and Roses’ Appetite for Destruction came out. The undead are always a little unfashionable in their dress.
The boy casualty of the Overlook Hotel, Danny (Ewan McGregor, at his best) grew up to be a mean alcoholic like his late dad Jack. Danny floats into a small town in New Hampshire and is bailed out by a good-guy municipal worker (Cliff Curtis) who is in AA. Cut to eight years later; the chip is in Danny’s hand, not on his shoulder. He landed a job as an orderly at a hospice, where his empathy is put to good use.
Meanwhile, there’s Abra (Kyleigh Curran) who has The Shining in abundance, a beacon bright enough to summon Rose’s family of fiends all the way cross-country. Abra has been in communication with Danny for years as a psychic friend. He warns against challenging Rose and her gang. But being the headstrong, affluent, Harvard-bound girl that she is …
As it ends, this movie starts to cycle a reunion of the old beasts from the Overlook. Flanagan hardly needed to revisit this familiar house of horrors when the story he’s telling was already a highly satisfactory horror movie: a bonbon for those of us who haunt theaters and suck up other people’s suffering.