Review: Doctor Sleep

The sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is here, and I’m all in. Doctor Sleep starring Obi-Wan himself (Ewan McGregor) is a slow burn, similar to it’s predecessor. Pulled from source material of the same name written by Stephen King back in 2013, this adaptation to screen apparently strays less from the pages than the 1980 film (in)famously did in an attempt to bridge the gap between King fans and Kubrick fans. I’m not one to weigh in on whether or not it worked because I never read either book, but I hope that the quality of the film appeases King’s conscience this time. I really enjoyed it and would look forward to seeing this franchise continue with or without written material from the king of contemporary horror.
Danny Torrance (McGregor) survived his family’s time at The Overlook but his childhood terrors have followed him outside the walls of the hotel. After learning how to lock them away, he sets aside his dangerous ability in order to keep himself safe. But as time passes he turns to alcohol to numb the memories and pain, and finally in an attempt to run from himself, he moves across the country and finds a job as a hospice orderly, giving him the opportunity to use his shine to help the dying find peace (a.k.a. Doctor Sleep). When a powerful, young girl reaches out telepathically asking for help, Danny is forced to confront his past and must unlock the potential of his gift to save the girl and stop a group of hunters known as The True Knot from sucking the shine out of her.
Kubrick turned the original novel’s fantastical mystique surrounding The Overlook hotel into more of a psychological horror as we watch Jack Torrance (Nicholson) slowly lose his mind without much focus on why or how Danny plays a role in what’s happening. Director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, The Haunting of Hill House) does a nice job understanding the differences between novel and film by finding a middle ground that does justice to both. Although marketed very heavily as a horror sequel set back at the Overlook, Flanagan takes his story in a mostly different direction. And I think it is fitting enough to continue the story of The Shining (film) that most of us are familiar with while also introducing new vampirical fantasy elements and focusing more on the shining gift of a grown-up Danny Torrance and newcomer Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran).
The acting in this movie is done very well and a big piece of that pie belongs to the actress portraying Rose the Hat, Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman, Mission: Impossible – Fallout). Leading the antagonistic device in the film (The True Knot), Ferguson is as devastatingly haunting as she is alluring. She is a brutal vampire and a true force behind the film’s horror genre. The vampires have an air of mystique surrounding them, some of which is never truly explained, and this adds to their charm (and why we could/should see a second film). Curran also does a nice job in her first big acting role, not just playing the helpless little girl but a vengefully persistent and emotionally strong co-protagonist. Alongside veteran actor McGregor, she finds her space to shine too. And Ewan does a fine job himself, playing a convincing man in recovery who is finding his place in the world. In addition to the characters though, the story is strong. Weird, but strong. They do eventually make their way back to the hotel (abandoned, not exploded), but not until the third act of the film. Up to that point it jumps back and forth among characters on both sides, all the while staying focused on the shining. And it’s the story that makes the change in setting both possible and plausible, because otherwise there was no reason to return to the haunted hotel (unless you’re just trying to sell the film…).
There are many callbacks to The Shining, and while not all were completely necessary I think they mostly played well and added to the story’s depth rather than taking you out of it. Opening with a young Danny dreaming of his hotel horrors, the hallways and ghosts aren’t seen again until almost two hours later. What is revisited often though is the camerawork of Kubrick. From slow turns around corners to overhead views to a person floating through space, many iconic angles and shots were purposefully and wonderfully used. Room 237 finds time in the film, as does the ghost of Overlook’s chef Mr. Hallorann, who I thought was tastefully involved. Finally, near the end of the film the hotel bar scene makes an appearance, except this time the bartender looks a lot like Jack Torrance. The hotel’s last attempt to lure Danny into becoming the full-time battery tempts him with the sins of his father: namely heavy drinking and a general disregard for those closest to you.
Writing and directing a film built on a rolling wave of tension couldn’t have been easy, but I think the fantasy and horror elements were well-balanced and produce a strong film (if you can overlook the general King-ish absurdity that is eating steam to basically find immortality…like I said earlier, weird). Anyway, I promise I didn’t mean to lead you on with a “streaming review coming soon,” which I’ve mentioned now several times. I do have one in the works. Actually, since I started making that promise I have finished another short season of a good Amazon Prime show. So now I will have two streaming reviews coming soon! I have simply been very busy and haven’t had the time to write. But write soon I will, promise. Check out Doctor Sleep in theatres now and let me know what your thoughts are on the middle-ground film, and as always thanks for reading. Cheers!

2 thoughts on “Review: Doctor Sleep

  1. I gotta say I really went for this film far more than I ever expected to. I like The Shining but I’m not quite as enthusiastic about it as most are. That’s another reason this was such a surprise.

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    1. Same here, I enjoy The Shining but I’ve never been a hardcore fan of it. Kubrick interests me more than the story does, lol. I was excited to see this one though because of how different it looked (e.g. more magic/power-based), and I enjoyed that new aspect of the story.

      Liked by 1 person

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