Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep successfully blends elements of Stephen King’s novels and serves as a proper continuation to Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece, The Shining. Flanagan has been making a name for himself since his successful film Oculus released back in 2013. Now, fresh off last year’s well-received Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House, Flanagan has crafted a worthy companion to one of the best horror films ever.
Based on King’s 2013 novel of the same name, Doctor Sleep picks up nearly four decades after the events of The Shining. Danny Torrance, now all grown up, is a struggling alcoholic who remains haunted by the events that unfolded at the Overlook hotel during his childhood. After hitting rock bottom, Danny starts getting clean and meets Abra, a young girl who shares his ability to shine. After Abra becomes the target of an immortal group known as the True Knot, Danny attempts to save her before it’s too late. Directed and written by Flanagan, Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, and Cliff Curtis.
Flanagan’s script is an absolute treat that manages to effectively balance itself as a sequel to The Shining novel and film. There are several callbacks to Kubrick’s film and a third act that fans will absolutely adore. Flanagan spends enough time developing all of the major characters, even though a lot of the True Knot members aren’t developed that well outside of Rose the Hat. He takes time to reconnect audiences with Danny and fully flesh out this downward spiral he has been on for quite a while so that viewers can sympathize with his struggles. Speaking of Rose the Hat, she is going to go down as one of the greatest on-screen horror villains. The character is calculated, charismatic, very memorable and it helps that she is brought to life by such an amazing actress.
Ewan McGregor is incredible as Danny and the expressions on his face just help see what the character is going through. Since his father went insane when he was a kid, Danny hasn’t fully recovered from that and he sadly adopted his father’s alcoholism as well. Luckily, he decides he doesn’t want to go down that same road and he starts fresh. He now uses his ability to shine in order to give dying elderly a peaceful passing. Mcgregor is very believable in the role and his performance makes it easy for audiences to get behind Danny.
Also, Doctor Sleep does a great job of spending equalling enough time with its villains and protagonist. Now, the standout in this film is Ferguson who stars as Rose the Hat, an immortal psychic who leads the True Knot. The group feeds on the life force of individuals that shine in order to live longer and stay young. Ferguson is giving one of her best performances to date in this role, she brings a seductive charm to the character and her delivery is amazing. Ferguson just makes Rose the Hat come across as such a dominant presence and her fate probably could have been handled a bit better.
Doctor Sleep is very chilling, calm, and very atmospheric thanks to Flanagan’s camera work. His attempts at recreating famous shots from The Shining aren’t the best, but still very impressive. The film really is at its best when Flanagan just does his usual thing by creating a world viewers can get hooked on like a hypnotic drug and remaining true to the Doctor Sleep aspect of it. Towards the end, the film stumbles a bit and the final act feels rushed and not finished. The problem is that everything prior is paced very slowly just like The Shining, but then the pace picks up at a decent rate and then it rushes through its third act. However, Doctor Sleep is still a solid film overall despite its hiccups.
Adding to that, the score for Doctor Sleep is fantastic and it just makes the film so much more interesting. Composed by the Newton Brothers, it consists of some revamped tunes from Kubrick’s film and several new pieces for this continuation. There is one scene in particular where a familiar tune plays and it will cause nostalgia for some and send chills down your spine all at once.
Also, Curran is a surprising delight as Abra. The character has a hint of darkness lingering in her that becomes apparent by the pleasure she finds in hurting Rose the Hat. Curran gives a performance that perfectly balanced that innocence and that inner darkness, which may or may not become an issue for her later in life. The chemistry between her and McGregor is amazing to watch unfold. Her encounters with Rose the Hat are all very tense and chilling because Curran brings a sense of overconfidence to the character. It’s one of those rare occasions where the child actor isn’t a bother and viewers will actually want to see more of her as the film progresses.
Doctor Sleep is by far the best Stephen King film this year. It really only stumbles when it wants to be overly nostalgic and recreate things from The Shining. However, Flanagan spends a remarkable amount of time telling the primary story, and connecting viewers with the characters. IA film that effectively acts as a middle ground between several works was never going to be an easy task, but Flanagan has done a great job with Doctor Sleep and it wraps up the story of Danny Torrance in a beautiful way.