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'Doctor Sleep' review: 'The Shining' sort-of sequel can't escape original's long shadow

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance in "Doctor Sleep."

Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance in "Doctor Sleep." Credit: Warner Bros. Pictures/Jessica Miglio

PLOT A teenage girl and a man with a troubled past discover they share a psychic gift.

CAST Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran

RATED R (violence and morbid imagery)

LENGTH 2:31

BOTTOM LINE A quasi-sequel to "The Shining" that can't escape the original's long shadow.

For some moviegoers, "The Shining," Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film about a psychic little boy nearly murdered by his father in an old hotel, is the Picasso, Beatles and Muhammad Ali of horror — it was and always will be the best. The film has its detractors, notably the man who wrote the source-novel, Stephen King, but there's no dismissing its iconic visuals: the twin Grady girls, the blood-filled elevators and, of course, the rotted ghoul officially known as Old Woman in Bath.

Nearly 40 years later comes the sequel, "Stephen King's Doctor Sleep," based on the author's 2013 novel. If you were a fan of the first film, "Doctor Sleep" will be everything you feared — and not in a good way.

For starters, it's not really a sequel, except in a purely chronological sense. Our hero is Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor), whose near-death experience in the Overlook Hotel has turned him into an alcoholic. His old friend Halloran (Carl Lumbly, replacing the late Scatman Crothers) is now a friendly ghost who dispenses good advice. Aside from that, though, "Doctor Sleep" may as well be an entirely new story.

It's filled with Kingly creations, notably a group of evildoers called (in the book) The True Knot. Essentially middle-American vampires who travel by RV, they're disappointingly mundane, even when torturing children and inhaling the "steam" of their pain. The only two who make an impression are a sinister hippie named Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, nearly saving the movie) and a creepy cat named Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon). Somehow, Rose makes a psychic connection with a girl named Abra (as in "cadabra," and played by Kyliegh Curran), who in turn has been mentally communicating with Torrance as he goes through AA.

All of this leaves writer-director Mike Flanagan ("Oculus") well and truly stuck: He's paying homage to a horror masterpiece with a movie that's barely related to it. (The title refers to Torrance's new ability to put terminally ill people to sleep. Huh?) By the time we return to the Overlook Hotel for a grand finale, we've forgotten it ever existed. Re-creating the best moments of the original film – and re-using the footage of those bloody elevators — isn't enough, and doesn't work. "Doctor Sleep" should have let "The Shining" rest in peace. 

FOUR MORE

When a movie is a hit, the sequels usually come fast and furious – but not always. Here are four examples of follow-ups that took more than 20 years to arrive.

THE COLOR OF MONEY (1986) Paul Newman was nominated for a best actor Oscar as pool shark "Fast Eddie" Felson in 1961's "The Hustler." Twenty-five years later, he won it for the same role in this sequel, co-starring Tom Cruise and directed by Martin Scorsese.

TRON: LEGACY (2010) Jeff Bridges returned 28 years after 1982's "Tron" to play computer whiz Kevin Flynn, this time stuck in a virtual reality "grid." The movie did far better than its predecessor, earning $400 million.

THE ODD COUPLE II (1998) It took almost 30 years – just shy of a month — for Paramount to release a sequel to the iconic 1968 comedy "The Odd Couple," starring Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. It was the duo's final film together, the final screenplay from the legendary Neil Simon and a box-office flop.

BLADE RUNNER 2049 (2017) Denis Villeneuve's film marks one of the longest sequel-gaps on record, arriving 35 years after Ridley Scott's sci-fi-noir "Blade Runner" (1982). Ryan Gosling played the lead, while Harrison Ford returned as Rick Deckard. Speaking of the passage of time, the "futuristic" original was set in 2019.

— RAFER GUZMAN

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