Movie Review: Doctor Sleep

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is a 1980 horror epic, widely regarded as one of the best and scariest horror films of all time. Based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the author wasn’t happy with Kubrick’s “cold” adaptation, later getting behind a more faithful yet middling TV mini-series adaptation.

Doctor Sleep was always going to be a massive undertaking. Following on from a highly acclaimed film from one of the all-time master auteurs, respecting the wishes of a bestselling horror author and picking up the story decades later, writer-director and editor Mike Flanagan must have felt enormous pressure. While trying to balance all of these competing factions, he must have also wanted to add his own signature, making Doctor Sleep something of a precarious tightrope act. Unfortunately, the so-so trailer didn’t really do Doctor Sleep any favours.

Following the events of The Shining, little Danny has honed his gift to shine and is trying to make peace with his father’s death. Discovering a way to deal with the Overlook ghosts that haunt him, he sets about trying to live a normal life. Developing an alcohol dependency over the years, he realises the need for a fresh start relocating to a little town, where he finds renewed meaning. All the while, an evil clan grew stronger as an adult Danny discovers he’s not the only one who can shine.

For the most part, Flanagan has done well. Paying his respects to the original, this isn’t an attempt to rewrite history, recreating many scenes from Kubrick’s version with a similar attention to detail to the strange homage in Ready Player One. Good casting maintains the essence of the original while reminding us that this is something different and new. While the Overlook hotel was central to The Shining, Doctor Sleep has more of a small town mystery to it. Cleverly supplanting us back in the world of The Shining, Flanagan is able to appease Kubrick fans before forging ahead with something more akin to Stephen King’s horror universe.

Doctor Sleep Film

“Another one bites the dust!”

Jack Nicholson’s crazy clown role was iconic, a career-defining performance that is inextricably linked with the original. It would have been almost impossible to compete with that monumental performance, which is why the casting of Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Dan Torrance demonstrates the same reverence with which Flanagan approaches the sequel.

McGregor is a dependable and likable actor, who didn’t go the traditional acting school route but has managed to build a performance career for himself based on natural talent and experiential learning. Honing his acting skills over many years like Danny, he’s approached his work with an unusual humility and gentle charm. While this particular role doesn’t really stretch him, he approaches it with sincerity and heart, turning in a respectable lead performance more in line with King’s vision.

McGregor is supported by Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly and Rebecca Ferguson. Curran essentially features as Danny 2.0, Curtis becomes a dependable companion, Lumbly makes an excellent Hallorann and Ferguson constantly threatens to wreak havoc as Rose the Hat, the self-appointed leader of an ancient clan. This is a great outing for Ferguson, who is probably best known for her part as Ilsa Faust in the latest Mission Impossible movies. Her defining hat, beautiful face and devilish swagger make her one of the most memorable elements of Doctor Sleep.

While Doctor Sleep leans on an underdog ensemble, it has a seamless and elegant flow to the storytelling with Flanagan responsible for writing, editing and direction. Having been at the helm of Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil and Before I Wake, he’s proven himself in the horror realm with a number of effective to solid entries. Flanagan is operating in a different league, yet Doctor Sleep continues his reputation for good to solid horror thrillers. It pales in comparison to the nuance and genius of Kubrick, offering a much flatter and safer retelling, but is respectable enough to ride shotgun.

Without a real sense of ownership over the series and adaptation, there’s a sense of professionalism that underpins Doctor Sleep. Flanagan has been handed the reins to the dark stagecoach and needs to ensure he keeps speed, doesn’t let the wheels come off and arrives at the destination in good time. This would be a daunting task for almost any seasoned director, but to his credit he gets there without too much trouble.

Doctor Sleep is more of a mystery than a thriller, inheriting much of the iconic scare factor from The Shining without really leveraging the chills of King’s follow-up. The idea of consuming youth has promise and underlying tension, but perhaps the filmmakers didn’t want to draw too many parallels with King’s other magnum opus, It. Doctor Sleep’s sound is what makes this film a cut above, adding depth and substance to the visuals.

Handsome recreations, good performances, grounded visual effects and the film’s something-borrowed, something-new feel give it momentum and appeal. It’s a mostly entertaining two-and-a-half hour mystery horror drama, which is visually captivating and manages to touch on deeper themes. Doctor Sleep may not have Nicholson, Kubrick or the same majesty, malevolence and nuance of The Shining, but it serves up a generous slice of King’s imagination brought home by steady film-making, an offhandedly charming McGregor and an enchanting Ferguson.

The bottom line: Respectable

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