Nearly forty years after Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining hit the silver screen, Doctor Sleep has finally come along to answer the question that has been burning in our brains since: what happened to Danny Torrence after his father tried to kill him and his mother?
Okay, maybe this wasn’t burning in our brain. But Doctor Sleep is a sequel to The Shinning and, thanks to the recent popularity of adapting Stephen King books, we got this sequel and I was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. Though it’s more of a sci-fi thriller and the horror masterpiece The Shining is, Doctor Sleep is a thrilling, creepy, layered sequel that pays homage to Kubrick and Stephen King while also being its own movie.
Years following the events that took place at the Overlook Hotel, a now-adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is at rock-bottom. He’s heavily drinking, doing drugs, sleeping with random women, and feels little to no emotion and tries to avoid his “shinning” powers at all costs. When he tries to start a new life in a new town, he ends up meeting a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who has similar powers as he. But lurking in the distance is an evil group of “shinners” called The True Knot, led by a woman known as Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) – who does, in fact, rock the hell out of a hat – who prey on children with powers to remain immortal. Rose’s shinning is extremely powerful and when she feels how strong Abra’s powers are, her and The True Knot go on a mission to get her, which forces Dan to deal with demons from his past.
Writer/director Mike Flanagan, fresh off the masterful The Haunting of Hill House, was a perfect director for this film. Along with Hill House, Flanagan has seen great success in the horror with films like Hush and Gerald’s Game, proving that he has a knack for the genre. Doctor Sleep is his biggest movie to date and he knocks it out of the park. With a combination of visual flare, tonal balance, understanding the story, and Kubrick homage, Flanagan was able to craft a film that is consistently riveting from minute one. There are a number of nicely timed jump scares, scenes that had my had me on the edge of my seat, and some wild visual flourishes that had me hooked. There’s a particular sequence, where Rose floats around the Earth to search for Abra and the events that happen after, that really rocked me. I was in awe of the audacity of how it was shot and amazed that something this crazy took place on screen and never once felt silly. The finale of the film is a gigantic homage to Kubrick and his original film and anyone who is a fan of The Shinning will have a ball watching it.
But it’s the quieter moments and deeper themes where Flanagan shines. Much like Hill House, Doctor Sleep dives into themes about dealing with trauma, taking control of your past, and familial demons. Led by a powerful performance by Ewan McGregor, we watch Dan be at his absolute lowest but then move on from it until he is forced to tackle the demons that forced him to the bottom. We also watch as Dan, a loner for most of his life, being forced to help Abra and make sure Rose doesn’t reach her and hurt her. His growth from loner to someone who genuinely cares about this girl and others around him is a lot of the film’s heart and the rapport between McGregor and Curran is authentic and makes their relationship believable.
Flanagan also gets a next-level performance from Rebecca Ferguson, who proves just how big of a movie star she is. Rose is obsessed with the power the “shinners” have and will do anything to get more of the power so she can live forever. Ferguson commands the screen whenever she’s on it, giving us a devilishly fun, yet horrifying performance of someone who is after the highest power.
It’s tough to be the sequel to a masterpiece. Only few films have followed such a feat and those films are some of the greatest of all-time (Godfather Part II, Empire Strikes Back, etc.). I wouldn’t necessarily consider Doctor Sleep a legendary sequel the matches up against the original, but it is a damn fine movie. Led by great performances from Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, a perfect balance of drama and horror, a great score, visual excellence, and the right amount of homage, Doctor Sleep is a sequel Kubrick and King would approve of.
Follow Kevflix on Twitter and Instagram, @kevflix, and on Facebook by searching Kevflix.