When you hear about a planned sequel of the movie, you doubtfully expect it to exceed your expectations: the follow-up rarely outshines the original. But what about a sequel to a well known book written after almost forty years, the author of which is his majesty Stephen King?
First published in 1977, The Shining became one of the most famous S. King‘s novels ever with a plot focusing on an alcoholic writer Jack Torrence who accepts position as an off-season caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, and his five year old son Danny bearing certain supernatural abilities to see ghosts from the past, i.e. the “shining“. The novel ends up with an explosion of the boiler, which destroys the Overlook and kills Jack but Danny, his mother and his future guardian – a former hotel cook Hallorann make a narrow escape.
And suddenly when it seems that everybody is satisfied with the ending (obviously, the first real fans of The Shining should be in their fifties and sixties at least), Stephen King strikes again and comes back with Doctor Sleep. It appears that the thought „what happened to that kid from The Shining?“ has never left the author. However he acknowledges that „the man who wrote Doctor Sleep is very different from the well-meaning alcoholic who wrote The Shining, but both remain interested in the same thing: telling a kickass story“.
Thus in Doctor Sleep we meet Danny again. Firstly as a teenager who is re-haunted by ghosts from the Overlook Hotel but learns how to control them with a help of the old Hallorann. Then Danny turns into Dan, however his emotional side is rushing headlong down, crashing all his promises not to ever resemble his farther. Trying to block his „shinings“ he becomes a true alcoholic and one day hits the very bottom. Luckily, at that moment Dan steps out of the bus in a small town in New Hampshire, joins the AA community, finds supporters and friends and starts working at a local hospice. That‘s where he gets his nickname as a Doctor Sleep, for he helps the dying to smoothly move from our world to the one of beyond.
Meanwhile on the freeways of America there are campers looking rather normal at the first glance. However, they hide the most dangerous creatures called The True Knot who are no humans but some quasi-immortals like vampires, only self sustained on a different food. The one, which seems the cruelest of all: they hunt down children with the “shining“ and feed on the „steam“ produced by them during a long lethal torture. That‘s why so many kids across the country tend to disappear and are meant to never be found.
Well, Dan is no longer in danger regarding this True Knot, as he‘s not a kid anymore, thus why should he become an antagonist then? Stephen King gradually introduces a new character, which contacts Dan supernaturally right after she is born. Her name is Abra, and the contacts within the head or in a form of words on a blackboard in Dan‘s room intensify with Abra growing up. Why she has chosen Dan for communication is revealed afterwards and is one of the pitch turns in the plot. When danger arises for Abra, as The True Knot and their leader Rose the Hat start the hunt for her enormous dose of „steam“, Dan is forced to return to his childhood, to the place where the Overlook Hotel once stood and destroy the demons once and for good.
There was a time when I could have made my PhD on analysis of Stephen King‘s literary works. I‘ve translated six of his books, including his famous Insomnia (still one of my favourite) and could draw parallels from one of his novels to another. Probably that‘s why a number of details or themes in Doctor Sleep rang a bell and created a sense of déjà vu.
For instance, a creepy Dan‘s cat Azzie, who enters a patients room in the hospice only when the time comes for him or her to die. Well, somehow it reminds me of the cat in the Pet Sematary – although the motives are different, you still get the same scary feeling.
The concept of „steam“ is familiar to human „auras“ in Insomnia, which represent our healthiness of life or time of death. Some kind of intangible and unexplained matter floating or radiating from each of us is no news in the King style. Moreover, when Dan releases the cancer, which he has drawn into him from Abra‘s great grandmother, I visualize the scene from The Green Mile where John Coffey does practically the same to Persey, after breathing in a deadly brain tumor from Hal‘s wife.
Doctor Sleep is a real page-turner, all right, however, getting to the end you feel an arising disappointment. After so many new characters introduced, developed and portraited, the climax is too low and the upshot too simple. And none of the good guys dies to sacrifice himself to destroy the evil, which is usually implied in the King‘s plot. Although I‘d imagine the story on the screen (hopefully, not so shallow and humdrum as the recent remake of Carrie).
Stephen King hated Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, as the movie reduced the complex characters to just horror scenes (it still associates with mad faces of Jack Nicholson when I hear the title). Well, I‘d bet that the successor Doctor Sleep would be on the same chart of scary movies, too. Just not so sure whether S. King should have the same arguments this time – I‘d put a B for 500 pages of content, which means that a future B movie should be fair enough.