November 6th, 2019
MOVIE: DOCTOR SLEEP
STARRING: EWAN MCGREGOR; REBECCA FERGUSON; KYLIEGH CURRAN
DIRECTED BY: MIKE FLANAGAN
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 3 STARS (Out of 4)
Depending on who you talk to, there are some that view Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining as the greatest horror film of all time. That is a different argument, for a different time, but it is a massive undertaking for anyone to take on directing a sequel to Stephen King’s most legendary piece of literature. That reason alone is why Mike Flanagan deserves a round of applause. Just the challenge seems daunting, but I am happy to say that Doctor Sleep is a solid success. We pick up after things went off the rails at the Overlook Hotel, with Danny Torrance and his mother moving on. Little Danny still deals with his super power, allowing him to communicate with some of the living and plenty of the dead. Years go by, Danny (played by Ewan McGregor) suppresses his gift with the help of drugs and alcohol, but eventually makes contact with Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with stronger powers, which catches the attention of a group that feeds off people, led by villainous Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), hunting others with power so they can suck the life out of them. It all amounts to a large scale horror picture, one that weaves us through the horrific traumas of Danny Torrance’s past, and his character seeking redemption in the end. Doctor Sleep is a tightly wound film, where the young meet the old, and death is coming for all of them.
Before I dig deeper into the things I liked and disliked about Doctor Sleep, I must admit that I’m not the best opinion to listen to for this movie. I’ve seen almost every movie that has taken the work of Stephen King and adapted it for the big screen. Cujo, Christine, The Mist, on and on, but coincidentally, I have never read any of the master of horrors work. That makes me both unqualified and semi-qualified to view Doctor Sleep. Fans of King tend to enjoy the writing more than the cinematic adaptations, but as we saw earlier this year with IT: Chapter 2, it’s an incredibly difficult thing to get right. It’s also impossible not to compare Doctor Sleep to the recent IT film, because both movies have runtimes well over two hours, consist of large scale set designs, and change the way horror films are made. For Doctor Sleep, it has the story to make it work, the screenplay also written by Flanagan, has a solid three act narrative, and plenty of haunting imagery to keep you engaged for more. Fans of The Shining will see Doctor Sleep as a worthy continuation, something I saw as impossible to achieve.
The majority of the cast involves the three characters. McGregor’s performance as Danny is consistent in approach. Danny is a man that has learned to lock away the demons in his head, with the help of his ghostly friend Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), taking a bus to the far east coast, and finding sobriety with his new buddy Billy (Cliff Curtis). In his apartment, Danny notices that he can communicate with Abra on a chalkboard wall, and the more they share their powers, the closer the group of dead eaters get to them. Two of Mike Flanagan’s best creative choices is casting Rebecca Ferguson as the devilish leader of the group, sporting a top hat that grows on you in every scene, and making their abilities seem like a pack of ravaged, life-sucking wolves. They are not scary individually, but as a group they will terrify. The converging fast, like raptors in Jurassic Park, feasting on the young and innocent, bringing a fresh new kind of horror to these films.
It is also the technical aspects that make Doctor Sleep better than expected. The score from the Newton Brothers recall’s the classic tune in the original Shining, while keeping a constant heart beat thump sound throughout, which creates a tension that is nerve wracking. You layer that over the top of the films pristine set designs, Ferguson’s wicked acting that reaches to the furthest back row of the theater, and the surprising arrival of young Kyliegh Curran, who proves she can share the load with McGregor. All of those comments would not work without the tireless commitment by Mike Flanagan, who slips past diminishing the work in The Shining, and creates his own path. He never tries to be Kubrick, only tries to pay his respects at his altar of greatness.
For many, Doctor Sleep is a momentous occasion, and others will downright hate it. This will be a film that divides both fans of the horror genre and classic cinema. The runtime will be slow for some, not moving fast enough, and unworthy of the history of Kubrick’s work. The eventual third act features call backs to the original film, which I found to be a daring choice, but not entirely something that worked. I do not doubt it that many will be left confused, while others see it as the only logical narrative choice. Above all those things, Doctor Sleep is never laboring and always engaging. This movie succeeds at making the horror film into a long-form epic, complete with Stephen King’s narrative themes, with children losing their innocence, and frightening creatures haunting our dreams. Doctor Sleep is a worthy follow-up to The Shining. Now, get some shut-eye if you can, the doctor recommends it.
Written by: Leo Brady