Book vs. Movie: Doctor Sleep

We all know by now how Stephen King felt about Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel The Shining, which may be puzzling to some people because Kubrick’s film is one of the most beloved horror movies of all time. Like most adaptations, the movie was not a faithful page-by-page recreation of King’s original work, which really pissed King off at the time. And I get it. It wasn’t just that Kubrick had the gall to change the ending or add his own touches here and there, but he played down one of the themes that was integral to King’s novel: Jack’s alcoholism. In the book, we get to see how Jack is already a troubled man, sober but struggling, trying his best to keep his family together as they heal from the damage his drinking has inflicted on them. It was Jack’s past that made him weak and his disease made him easy for the spirits of the Overlook to manipulate and control him. The movie is pretty much a straightforward haunted house story.

It took King over 30 years to write a sequel to The Shining. Doctor Sleep picks up right where The Shining left off, with young Danny and his mother living in Florida and trying to recover from the nightmare at the Overlook. The book fast-forwards to Danny as an adult, living life as a drifter and a drunk. He eventually finds a place to call home, sobers up, and discovers that his shining ability is useful in helping dying people peacefully cross over, which earns him the nickname Doctor Sleep. He also makes contact via his psychic powers with a little girl named Abra who finds herself the target of a group of quasi-immortal creatures (The True Knot) that hunt and feed on children with the same kind of talents as Danny and Abra.

Going into this movie I knew the book was not the only thing the filmmakers had to consider. They had to pay homage to King’s work, but at the same time try to be faithful to Kubrick’s vision given that his film is so iconic. So I expected some things to be different, and I was okay with it, especially after reading an interview with King where he says he met the director and they discussed how to delicately blend both of King’s books together and still link threads back to the original movie.

I will say right off that this movie is definitely more of a direct follow-up of Kubrick’s film than it is of either King novel. They look is the same; they went as far as to re-create entire scenes from the original and it’s hard to believe you’re not looking at a cut from Kubrick’s reel. The tone and mood are in line with the first movie; the brooding string music, the aerial camera shots. They did their best to find an actress to play Wendy, Danny’s mom, but this is a case of close but no cigar… I’m not faulting anyone for this because Shelly Duvall’s look and portrayal of the character is so unique and impossible to replicate.

What I enjoyed most about the movie was the new storyline that has nothing to do with The Shining, involving Dan and Abra and the True Knot led by the deliciously evil Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson did a fucking amazing job with this role). This part of the movie is remarkably close to King’s vision. The idea of a nomadic cult of shine-sucking child killers is a creepy one, and they should have focused more on this aspect of the story, but the film seems to keep pulling the viewer back towards the original movie. I felt the movie was a bit too long, yet the story with The Knot vs. Dan and Abra felt rushed. They spent too much time exploring the past which is a shame because the novel is a very terrifying tale that can stand on its own.

In the book, Dan is haunted by the ghosts from the Overlook but this doesn’t take up a great deal of page space. The Overlook looms large in the film. In the books, the hotel is destroyed at the end of The Shining and the climax of Doctor Sleep takes place on the spot where the Overlook used to stand, now an RV park owned by The Knot. The movie’s final act takes place in The Overlook (which looks great, just as it was in Kubrick’s movie), but it kind of falls flat becauee nothing new or all that scary happens there. The ghosts are all present: the woman in the tub, Horace Dewent, Grady, the twin girls, and Lloyd the bartender is back, although to the adult Danny he looks suspiciously like his father; the hedge maze is still there, blood is still pouring out the elevator door. It’s cool, but it’s all things we’ve seen before. If felt like an homage just for the sake of an homage. I sat there thinking that they flew by the real meat of the story just to show off how meticulously they recreated the past.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is a good movie. They just banked too much on nostalgia, which can be great, but if you can’t throw something new and different in the mix, why bother? I prefer the book version, of course, because I usually always do, but this movie does have its charm. I’m sure it was a tough job trying to balance between King and Kubrick to come up with something that would please fans on both sides, but sometimes people just need to remember that you’re never going to make everybody happy. Especially us horror geeks.

About Brian White 31 Articles
I am a lifelong horror junkie, musician, and writer. I recently published my first collection of poetry, Shadow Land, which is available on Amazon. I'm 38 years old and I live in Canton, Ohio.