Mike Flanagan's Doctor Sleep is worthy sequel to Stanley Kubrick's classic The Shining, both based on the novels written by Stephen King. Doctor Sleep's true terror rests with its depiction of alcoholism and addiction, wrapped in a very spooky shell, full of creepy imagery and nail-biting suspense, in addition to well-acted and purposed drama.
Horror director Mike Flanagan‘s Doctor Sleep is a worthy successor to Stanley Kubrick‘s The Shining, becoming a sequel that shares similar storylines and imagery, but mostly becomes its own thing as it adapts Stephen King‘s novel in true form. Doctor Sleep‘s ability to heighten the terror, build on the suspense and yet deliver a well-made drama that’s rooted in its characters and their complexities is what makes it an instant classic and a film that I feel on repeat viewings will only get better.
Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is all grown up. For those unaware, he was the little boy from The Shining, who displayed a special ability to talk to the dead and other-worldly spirits. After those tragic events Dan mostly stopped using his abilities, in hopes of starting over and living a life that he actually has control of.
All of that changes when Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) starts narrowing in on others with similar abilities. Rose and her ragtag group of friends travel the world in search for those that possess this magic, because they can literally feed off of their life-form to live longer lives themselves.
This makes things incredibly complicated for Dan as he meets a friend named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) that shows strong ability. Now, Dan must help Abra before Rose gets ahold of her and discovers him in the process, in hopes of finally conquering these past demons.
There’s no denying writer/director Mike Flanagan‘s horror filmmaking abilities in Doctor Sleep. Flanagan has somehow managed to take a sacred property (The Shining) and make a sequel that not only feels relevant, but also like its own film entirely. Yes, Doctor Sleep features a familiar last act that relies on your knowledge of The Shining to really hit it home, but everything before it is equally impressive, if not more engaging, because of its performances by Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson.
McGregor’s Dan is truly broken — a reckless drunk uncaring of his powers. He’s constantly living in his father’s shadows, which only leads him deeper down the rabbit hole. Watching Flanagan’s script unfold and McGregor’s performance go from unhinged to complete control is an on-screen delight.
Doctor Sleep is a film about addiction, specifically alcoholism and how helpless it truly renders you. Early on in the film, Dan is without cause and then suddenly he starts to take control. Watching him meet Cliff Curtis‘ character presents a turning point and it’s only a matter of time before Dan earns the titular name.
The middle portion of the film has Dan working at a hospice care facility and it is truly fascinating — Flanagan’s script allows for some deep exploration into what it truly means to be at peace with oneself and what it means to not be afraid of what comes next. I could watch an entire movie with Dan roaming the hallways, interacting with those in their final moments. Watching Dan grow and understand with each encounter makes the payoff all the sweeter.
But that would mean no Rose The Hat, played with expert craft by Rebecca Ferguson. Rose is a unique character in that her original intentions almost seem reasonable and sound. It isn’t until she starts losing control that she becomes a serious wacko, which balances out nicely with Dan’s transition from out-of-control to in control.
The more Dan grasps his own life, the clearer his purpose is and the easier it is for him to swallow the idea of just what his abilities can do. Whereas Rose starts out the film calm and collected, only to slowly unravel into complete madness by the end.
If you’re going into Doctor Sleep expecting a direct sequel to The Shining then you might want to readjust your expectations. Yes, it calls back to the film, almost a little bit too much during the last act, but the entire middle act is structured in a way that really sinks into its characters and their abilities, versus The Shining focusing so much on Jack Nicholson‘s character going completely insane.
Doctor Sleep actually dives into the paranormal mythos surrounding the hotel and the characters inside it. It defines that insanity and gives it a reason for existing. I found this fascinating and to be the perfect continuation of that story in tone, yet a completely different story that actually works better in the long run.
The last 20 minutes of Doctor Sleep aren’t nearly as impressive as what came before, because they try so hard to tie things back to The Shining and at some point you’re wondering if this film really needed to be a two and a half hour production. But that doesn’t hold the film back from becoming one of the most interesting horror films of the past several years; a film that has so much to say and yet actually spends time saying it.
I expected more jump scares and gore and instead was greeted with a fully-realized film that took advantage of the cast to make a memorable drama that’s soaked in atmosphere and very moody, but more build up and payoff than your typical horror thriller.
Doctor Sleep might be one of the most surprising films of the year. It’s unafraid to establish its own characters and story, while building off of the world before it in a way that feels more than just another sequel.