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Horror rewind: ‘Doctor Sleep’ a delightfully chewy sequel to ‘The Shining’

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance in “Doctor Sleep.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

When you hear “Doctor Sleep,” you might think this is another movie about a Marvel Universe character or maybe the title of a Motley Crue song from 1985, but this is actually a decades-down-the-road sequel to “The Shining,” which is only one of the greatest horror masterpieces ever made.

Talk about an intimidating challenge. As they used to say about Chicago politics, this ain’t beanbag.

Kudos to writer-director Mike Flanagan for having the fortitude to address the Big Wheel tricycle in the room by not only referencing specific sets and shots from Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 masterpiece but casting new faces in certain roles made famous in the original film.

(Not that Flanagan embarked on this journey from scratch. That would be insane. “Doctor Sleep” is based on Stephen King’s 2013 sequel to the 1977 novel “The Shining,” which, of course, served as the basis for Kubrick’s film.)

“Doctor Sleep” is set mainly in the present day, in which Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor, doing brilliant work) is an alcoholic drifter who remains haunted by the horrific trauma he and his mother suffered all those years ago. Danny still has “the shine,” but he tries to drown out those extrasensory gifts by crawling inside a bottle nearly every night.

Broken to the point where he looks like he’d welcome a knock on the door from the Grim Reaper, Danny stumbles into the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire, where a kind local named Billy Freeman (the wonderful Cliff Curtis) helps Danny get a place to stay and takes him to Alcoholoics Anonymous meetings, where Danny meets a doctor (Bruce Greenwood) who gets Danny a job at a hospice.

Danny’s shining powers are actually put to rather lovely use at the hospice, as he can sense when someone is about to die and can give that individual a feeling of peace and reassurance there’s something out there for the human soul beyond death. (Hence, “Doctor Sleep.”)

THE END. Danny helps comfort others and thus saves himself!

Come on. This is a Stephen King horror story.

While Danny’s working out his issues in Small Town USA, a band of vampirelike beings called the True Knot is roaming the country and feeding off the “steam” (essentially the souls) of children who have been gifted with the ability to shine. (The stronger the shine, the more power the members of the True Knot gain by ingesting their steam.)

The True Knot kind of reminded me of a demented version of a Fleetwood Mac tour, with Rebecca Ferguson as the Stevie Nicks of the group – one Rose the Hat, so named because she’s Rose and she won’t go anywhere without her badass black hat. They even have a cool tour bus, the better to travel the land, feeding off young souls.

Quips aside, there’s nothing light or satirical about the cold-souled manner in which Rose and her cohorts murder their victims and consume their essence. A sequence involving a boy (Jacob Tremblay) who vanishes after a baseball game is tough to watch.

Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone in the Warner Bros. Pictures supernatural thriller “Doctor Sleep.” (Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures)

Meanwhile, Danny is actually enjoying a telepathic, uncle-niece-type relationship with an adolescent girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who’s living somewhere in suburbia and for the most part hiding her light under a bushel.

But Abra’s shining skills are so powerful and special she appears on the True Knot’s radar, and they commence hunting her down so they can feed off her essence. (Rose and her partners in blood aren’t immortal, but if they “eat right,” as she puts it, they can live for a thousand years.)

Abra has a happy home life and two loving parents who have come to accept if not completely understand that their daughter has special skills, and she has a good heart. (Imagine a slightly younger and much more emotionally healthy Carrie, pre-bucket of blood.) She’s practically a superhero in the making, but she’s not going to be able to fend off the collective powers of the True Knot without Danny’s help.

Their Telepathic Facebook relationship becomes real and in-person. Bring it on, Rose the Hat!

Young Kyliegh Curran is spectacularly good as Abra, who is a sweet kid but won’t hesitate to END anyone in the True Knot, because she knows they have murdered children and, as she says more than once, they deserve to suffer and die.

I won’t go into details about how this Extended Shining Universe saga is resolved, other than to say if you’ve never seen the original film, much of what eventually happens will be lost on you. And if you HAVE seen “The Shining,” you might consider some of the choices to be horror movie sacrilege.

Not to waver – I AM recommending the movie – but I can see both sides. Some of the callbacks to “The Shining” are chillingly effective; others felt gratuitous and missed the mark.

Still. A tip of the REDRUM to “Doctor Sleep” and to Ewan McGregor’s memorable performance for giving us the opportunity to catch up with Danny Torrance in a most satisfying manner.


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