It’s been a good year for Stephen King adaptations and it’s not over quite yet. Next weekend sees the release of Doctor Sleep, an adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining. That novel was famously adapted into a 1980 feature film by legendary director Stanley Kubrick and despite the author’s own vehement disapproval, The Shining is now viewed as a true horror classic. To say Doctor Sleep has a lot to live up to is an understatement.
Rarely is a film saddled with the weight of expectation and legacy in quite the way that Doctor Sleep is, as it has to operate and succeed on a number of levels. Director Mike Flanagan’s film has to work as a sequel to both a beloved book and a classic movie, which is a unique challenge given the divergences of those two. The film must also function as a successful adaptation of an acclaimed novel that works in its own right. That’s a lot of pressure, so how does Doctor Sleep fare?
Doctor Sleep reviews are now up and so far, it’s looking like this movie mostly shines. In his 4.5-star review of the film, CinemaBlend's Eric Eisenberg said of the film:
What it’s able to accomplish from a legacy standpoint is breathtaking, and it delivers intelligent storytelling, stunning photography, phenomenal performances, and also one of the most disturbing sequences in recent memory. It’s a tremendous achievement, and among the best Stephen King adaptations ever.
That is some sincerely high praise from Eric. There have been many great Stephen King adaptations for this one to stand near the top is an achievement indeed, especially given the legacy of The Shining he mentioned. He wasn't the only one who found Doctor Sleep to be a worthy Stephen King adaptation. Slash Film's Chris Evangelista found that director Mike Flanagan truly 'gets' the author's work. In his eight out of 10 review he said:
Many filmmakers have adapted Stephen King, and a large amount of them neglect to zero in on what it is that makes the Master of Horror’s work so special: his compassion. Unflinching, unapologetic compassion that shines through all the cold, violent darkness. Mike Flanagan understands that, and so does Doctor Sleep. And as a result of this, Doctor Sleep shines on.
Although not all critics were as high on Doctor Sleep as Eric and Chris, many still found the film to be a fun and worthwhile time at the movies. Among them is Variety's Owen Gleiberman, who said:
This sequel to The Shining may register, in the end, as a long footnote, but it makes you glad that you got to play in that sinister funhouse again.
Sequels need to justify their existence, sequels to classics even more so. So Doctor Sleep being a journey worth taking is all you can ask for. That's not to say it's perfect, as several critics enjoyed the movie-- but felt that the attempt to marry this new tale with Kubrick's The Shining and Stephen King's novel ultimately hurt it. Among them is The Wrap's Robert Abele, who wrote:
Like a servant to two masters, Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep wants both Stephen King and fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film of his book The Shining to be happy. But sadly, it isn’t enough of its own chilling entity to have much impact.
Trying to honor Stanley Kubrick is a noble goal, but it is also a lofty one and that's where some felt this movie fell short. Fortunately, for the majority of critics, those qualms didn't ruin the experience. IGN's Tom Jorgensen gave Doctor Sleep an 8.5 out of 10 and wrote:
Most of Doctor Sleep delights with the new material it brings to this chapter of Torrance family history - its only real moments of weakness come when overindulging in Kubrick’s vision of the story.
One person who really didn't like Mike Flanagan's film was The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, who took issue with the film's length, a complaint he wasn't alone in, and its entertainment value. He gave Doctor Sleep two out of five stars and wrote:
It is more than half an hour longer than the Stanley Kubrick film, although it seems more than that – laborious, directionless and densely populated with boring new characters among whom the narrative focus is muddled and split.
Just when things threaten to slow to a stall, you can count on Ferguson to roar to the occasion to shake you; when she’s around, she’s the whole show, threatening, cajoling, erotically boiling when prey is at hand.
Yeah, she's awesome. Lastly we have io9's Germain Lussier, who felt that Doctor Sleep's pros far outweigh its cons. He wrote:
Those minor knocks aside, Doctor Sleep tells a complex, interesting story, filled with even more dynamic characters, set in a rich world that surprises as much as it strokes your nostalgia.
As of now Doctor Sleep sits at 75% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes with 32 reviews counted. By the sound of things, there is a lot to like in the film but opinions will vary on how well it succeeds on all the levels I outlined above. It is also possible that Doctor Sleep will actually play better for those general audiences who haven't seen or don't have reverence for Stanley Kubrick's 1980 horror classic. Maybe not, but it will be interesting to see the audience metrics on this one.
Doctor Sleep arrives in theaters on November 8. Check out our 2019 Release Schedule to keep track of all the other movies still to come this year.