Stanley Kubrick's 1980 classic "The Shining" is no easy act to follow, but the long-distance sequel "Doctor Sleep" is up to the daunting task. While the new film can't compare with the original, it settles in comfortably as a companion piece that's a must-see for anyone who has found themselves under the spell of the original.
Based on the 2013 Stephen King novel, "Doctor Sleep" echoes the look, feel and sound of Kubrick's 1980 horror masterpiece. King famously hated Kubrick's adaptation -- to the point that he put his name on a 1997 TV miniseries -- but the new film ignores the TV miniseries, as well as many of the plot points in King's own book, and serves as a direct sequel to the Kubrick film.
Director Mike Flanagan seems to be a colossal fan of the Kubrick movie, lovingly recreating haunting set pieces and ghostly character moments in flashbacks and callbacks. The effort creates a seamless bridge between the two films, in the manner Disney connected the spinoffs "Rogue One" and "Solo" to iconic looks and moments from the original trilogy.
Flanagan ran the risk of sticking too closely to the original, but manages to strike out on his own enough to make the movie seem like its own master.
Ewan McGregor plays Danny, the psychically sensitive little boy from "The Shining" who has grown up into a drifter struggling with alcoholism. He's now mastered his preternatural powers to the point that he willfully seeks out and confronts ghastly visions that once tormented him and his family.
Danny uses his sixth-sense "shining" abilities to sooth those close to death, as well as connect with others -- both benevolent and nefarious -- blessed/cursed with the sensitivity.
His most daunting opponent is Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the leader of a vampiric cult that seeks out young psychics and disturbingly sucks the life force out of their mouths. With his childhood mentor, Dick (Carl Lumbly) ever in his ear as a guiding voice of reason, he joins with a child named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) to rescue a boy that Rose and crew kidnap.
Thriving on atmosphere and a gnawing sense of dread, "Doctor Sleep" avoids the temptation of cheap thrills in favor of measured, steady suspense. That sometimes slows down the film to the point of a standstill -- some savvy editing could have chopped off at least half an hour of its 150-minute running time -- but overall, the film manages to maintain its footing.
McGregor and Ferguson's performances drip with personality and otherworldly pizzazz, with the actors relishing their opportunities to delve into nuanced, rich roles. Their characters' ferocious struggle for lost souls makes for captivating swings in momentum.
Some may walk away from "Doctor Sleep" numbed by the scattered story and lack of jolting scares, but those who go into the film with a deep appreciation of its "The Shining" origins will get the most out of it. This is a film that will stick with you in your waking and sleeping moments alike.
RATING: 3 stars out of 4.