I caught up with this last night. It was one of those "tier two" new movies I was curious about, but not enough to see in the theatrical-release window.
Background: I've seen the Kubrick The Shining several times, I read King's The Shining two or three times as a young person, and I saw the forgettable 1997 miniseries once. I've never read Doctor Sleep because, while I have enduring respect for King as a writer, I disembarked somewhere around Needful Things. So this was an all-new story to me. All I knew was that it picked up with Danny Torrance as an adult.
I give the writer/director, Mike Flanagan, a lot of credit on a degree-of-difficulty level. He managed to make a respectful, even reverent sequel to both the book and the film, bridging the distance between them.
The reverence is not always in Doctor Sleep's best interests. The weakest scenes were the ones with new actors impersonating Shelley Duvall, Jack Nicholson, Danny Lloyd and Scatman Crothers circa 1980. They were good impersonations, sometimes eerily good (Alex Essoe's Wendy running toward the park bench, frantic, yelling out to Danny), but it was hard to react to them as anything but impersonations. Those scenes had a waxwork or tribute-band quality.
The film following or surrounding those scenes was better. Something I found special and unusual about it, for a horror thriller, is that we got to see the "villains" being terrified too. There were mutual stalking and terror tactics going on. It was a real psychic war. The sympathetic characters of Abra, Dan and Billy got to get their own licks in, not just in the climax.
As satisfying as that element was, I found I didn't even hate the members of True Knot, despite the gruesome things they did onscreen. When I thought about it, I realized they were like obligate carnivores. They didn't think of what they were doing as evil. They wanted to keep living as much as their victims did, they were facing extinction with their dwindling supplies, and they were long past being emotionally affected by the necessary sacrifices. This is a credit to King, Flanagan and the True Knot actors.
I'm a little surprised not to read more effusive praise for Kyliegh Curran in the reactions I've seen so far. I thought she showed the presence and strength of someone who could become an important actor in adulthood. The same goes for Jacob Tremblay, whom I knew going in from Room. His big scene here is so excruciating that the viewer has to recover from it to get back into the film. Rebecca Ferguson, whom Doctor Sleep probably helped more than it did anyone else, is as great a principal antagonist as everyone said, magnetic and complex, reminding me of a beautiful Swede of an earlier generation, Lena Olin. But Ewan McGregor was only workmanlike, Some actors deepen in middle age, as the youthful glamour falls away; others grow paler, less interesting. Unfortunately, I have McGregor in the second category. He was overshadowed here, much as he was in Beginners and The Impossible.
This is not a horror classic. It's slow, dense and deliberate without completely making that pay off, and it was hard for me to buy something integral to the premise: that an intact Overlook would have been shuttered after the events of Kubrick's film. In that version of the Overlook's history, would one more crazy caretaker who only successfully committed a single murder really get the place closed down? And in nearly 40 years, it was neither reopened under new owners nor demolished with something else on the site; it just sat there in a very mild state of dilapidation?
But a solid effort, well worth seeing.