Horror master Stephen King continues to have a banner year in Hollywood. We've had the release of a (disappointing) Pet Sematary remake earlier this year, IT: Chapter 2 in September, the Netflix adaptation of In the Tall Grass last month, and a new season of Castle Rock currently airing on Hulu. Closing out this annus mirabilis is Doctor Sleep, adapted from King's novel of the same name, a sequel to The Shining. Along with 2017's spectacular IT, Doctor Sleep is one of the best film adaptations of a King novel yet.
(Major spoilers for The Shining—film and book—below; mild spoilers for Doctor Sleep.)
King published The Shining in 1977. It became his first hardback bestseller and was adapted into a film by Stanley Kubrick in 1980, starring Jack Nicholson as struggling alcoholic and aspiring writer Jack Torrance. Initial reviews weren't particularly favorable—King himself was not a fan of the film, going so far as to produce his own adaptation in a 1997 miniseries—but it's now considered a horror classic.
For those not familiar with the story, Jack Torrance takes a position as the winter caretaker of the remote Overlook Hotel in the Colorado Rockies, bringing his wife, Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny (Danny Lloyd). Danny has a psychic gift, called "the shining," which lets him communicate telepathically with the hotel cook, Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers). The hotel is haunted, and the previous caretaker went mad and murdered his family. As a snowstorm hits and the isolation takes its toll, Jack ultimately succumbs to the same madness, chasing Wendy and Danny through the empty hotel with an axe ("Heeere's Johnny!") as the Overlook's ghosts look on approvingly. Mother and son barely manage to escape with their lives.
In the follow-up novel, Doctor Sleep, King sought to continue Danny's story as the boy grows up and struggles to recover from the psychological trauma he experienced at the Overlook Hotel. The ghosts have followed him from the hotel, but he has learned to contain them in a mental "lockbox." He still spends years as an alcoholic—the drinking suppresses the shining—wandering from town to town. Now in his 40s, Dan finally gets sober and settles in a New Hampshire town called Frazier. He gets a job at a hospice, where he uses his newly re-emerged psychic gift to comfort patients who are terminal, earning him the moniker Doctor Sleep. He's aided in this by a cat, inspired by a real-life therapy cat named Oscar who some claimed could predict the deaths of the terminally ill.
Dan also forms a psychic connection with a young girl, Abra Stone, whose powers are even stronger than his own. When she witnesses the murder of a boy by members of a local cult called the True Knot, she turns to Dan for help. The True Knot members feed off "steam," a psychic essence that comes from people with the shining who die in pain—although they can also contract illnesses from their victims. After feeding off the boy, clan members contract the measles and begin dying (the steam lengthens their life spans but does not make them immortal). The True Knot targets Abra, believing they can torture her indefinitely to give them a steady supply of "steam" before the entire clan succumbs to disease. It falls to Dan to protect her, culminating in a showdown at—where else?—the Overlook Hotel.
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