VOD film review: Doctor Sleep
James R | On 20, May 2020
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
A movie sequel to The Shining? The very idea is a horrifying thought for fans of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic – let only Stephen King, who didn’t like Kubrick’s take on his novel. But if you’re going to step into the aftermath of such haunting events, there’s no better filmmaker to hire than Mike Flanagan, who has proven himself a master at exploring grief while scaring the proverbial pants off you.
Taking on King’s follow-up novel from 2013, the film is notably a different beast from Kubrick’s film. It introduces us to Danny Torrence (McGregor) decades after the incidents at the Overlook Hotel. He has put his Shining ability in a box and, like his father, Dan has turned to the bottle in his attempts to confront what happened to him when young. But he finds himself drawn back into that tangled web of trauma when he comes across Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who has telepathic powers not unlike his.
While all this is going on, we keep cutting away to see the True Knot, a gang of hunters tracking down children with powers and killing them to still their Shine and use it to stay young for ever. They’re led by Rose (a chillingly good Rebecca Ferguson), who preys on her victims like a Freddy Krueger for the 21st century.
Danny is her polar opposite, working as an unofficial counsellor for people who are nearing death. Where Rose uses her gifts to take advantage of other people’s pain and fear, Danny uses his to help others come to terms with the ghosts and darkness on the other side – the ghosts that scarred Danny the boy, who, in McGregor’s fragile but melancholic performance, has only partly grown up.
Flanagan doesn’t shy away from the nastiness of King’s ideas, but he also finds a way to tie them successfully into Kubrick’s altered universe for the author’s characters. It’s a near-impossible balancing act, and Flanagan makes it seem not only effortless, but also leaves his own fingerprints on the grey/blue eerie world he constructs between everyday reality and the twilit gloom of internal nightmares.
Surprisingly thoughtful and consistently scary, it’s not the film you expect and all the more mature because of it – an act of exorcism and redemption for a franchise that has been torn apart by its own ghosts and conflicts. It’s no wonder that King approved of Flanagan’s script, nor that a director’s cut with 30 minutes adding more depth to the characters exists. Some moments that take us back very closely to The Shining risk highlighting the mountain Doctor Sleep has to climb to keep all fans of the story happy, but grounding the horror and homage in one man’s cathartic journey to reclaim his trauma and grief ensures that this revisit to the Overlook Hotel feels more like a homecoming than an outsider checking in.