DIRECTED BY: Mike Flanagan
STARRING: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe, Zackary Momoh, Henry Thomas, Carel Struycken, Robert Longstreet, Catherine Parker, Met Clark and Selena Anduze
Years following the events of The Shining, a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as he tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
Doctor Sleep continues the story of Danny Torrance, forty years after his terrifying stay at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child at the Overlook, Dan Torrance has fought to find some semblance of peace. But that peace is shattered when he encounters Abra, courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the “shine.” Instinctively recognising that Dan shares her power, Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality.
Doctor Sleep is the film adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 novel of the same name, which is a sequel to The Shining. Set a few decades after the events at the Overlook Hotel, an adult Danny Torrance is still haunted by the ghosts from the Overlook and is recovering from alcoholism, which suppressed his shine during that time. He encounters a young teenager named Abra, who shares the same gift as him, but she’s also drawn the attention of Rose the Hat and her followers, the True Knot, who feed off the shine and murder those that share the same gifts in their quest for immortality. Reluctantly, Dan forms an unlikely alliance with Abra in a brutal life-or-death battle against the True Knot, with Dan having to call upon his powers as never before and start facing his fears from the past.
Director Mike Flanagan took on the project with a difficult task ahead of him. Make a film that keeps fans of the Stephen King novel happy and also keep fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (which some would argue is not just a horror classic, but a classic film) happy. It’s also well known that Stephen King didn’t take Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining very well and so I was skeptical about this sequel and how it would work. Luckily, Flanagan directed Gerald’s Game, another adaptation of Stephen King, and had a word with King in convincing him to allow the film to be a hybrid of the book, and Kubrick’s The Shining as audiences were more familiar with that version. Thankfully the trust and blessing was giving and we end up with the best of both worlds here because what we have is a very mood, atmospheric thriller that is not a carbon copy of the original, but embraces the legacy of it and expand upon its world building and even explain some of the questions you had after watching Kubrick’s The Shining. The films main threat is that of the True Knot, a cult that feast upon the screams/shine from young children through sinister and violent methods and the film doesn’t shy away from how vicious and cruel they can be either and feed off the person’s ‘life essence’, if you will, like vampires, in order to extend their already long lifespan. There’s one scene in particular that showcases this and it doesn’t hold back from the horror of how they obtain the shine from a person and it just adds to the growing tension in the film. There’s some very good imagery here from Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari (the two have collaborated previously on Gerald’s Game and The Haunting On Hill House) and the one that sticks with me the most is when Rose the Hat is searching for Abra and astral-projects herself to her location, flying vertically above the sky to her destination like a bird. Rebecca Ferguson is excellent as Rose, giving a seductive and chilling performance as this almost immortal being who seems an unstoppable force from achieving her goal to maintain not only her life, but that of her friends as well. I also thought Ewan McGregor gave a really good performance as Dan Torrance. We see from the films opening how Danny is still haunted by things from the Overlook Hotel and as a coping mechanism he’s deepened himself into alcoholism and almost reminiscent of his father Jack in that regard, maybe even worse as an alcoholic, as the film deals with trauma and how it can’t be outrun. The one who really impresses in this film is young actress Kyliegh Curran, a confident and steely performance as Abra, a young teenager who possibly has the most powerful ‘Shine’ of all the characters here.
The films final act could be the make or break for some viewers, mainly because it pays homage to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and it could be argued by some that it makes too many nods to the Kubrick film, particularly in how certain scenes/sequences are shot, and with all the world and character building in the first two acts of the film, the final act might take some people out of the film. There’s some that might be expecting the film to be one thing, as in just being a horror film, and anyone coming in with that mindset of expecting the horror tropes here (jump scares etc.) you will not find it here. There’s also the matter of bringing back certain characters but having them recast rather than using digital de-aging technology (Carl Lumbly replacing Scatman Brothers rather than Scatman Brothers, Alex Essoe as Wendy Torrance rather than Shelley Duvall), but for me that never bothered me in the slightest. One of the sub-plots in the film I didn’t really care for was that of Snakebite Andi becoming a member of the True Knot. I get why it’s there to establish their initiation style and to build the mythology of who they are, why it’s essential that they do what they do, but in terms of the character I didn’t really care for.
Doctor Sleep for me felt like the perfect blend of making an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, as well as serving as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining and that’s down to Mike Flanagan’s handling of the material here. It’s moody, atmospheric and it builds the characters and the relationships well. The performances from the three leads (McGregor, Ferguson and Curran) are great here, particularly that of young actress Kyliegh Curran.