I never thought that a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining could ever work, let alone please Stephen King in the process, but here we are. In Mike Flanagan we trust. Seriously, have you looked at this guy’s career? It is just hit after hit and Doctor Sleep might be his best work yet. Flanagan did what was seemingly impossible and not only made a film that stayed true to Kubrick’s The Shining but also stayed true to KIng’s book. Infamously Stephen King did not like Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining as it veered away from his original book. Doctor Sleep on the other hand I think will please both parties, those who are massive fans of The Shining and those who love Stephen King’s work. Doctor Sleep is a mature and slow-burn horror flick that blew me away with its rich characters, imaginative imagery, stellar performances, and a haunting story.
I don’t really even want to talk about what this film is about as I went into the film knowing nothing and loved being surprised by the plot. Doctor Sleep took its time with its characters, the whole first 10-20 minutes of the film is solely focused on setting up our main characters. It can feel like those first 20 minutes go nowhere, but I appreciate the time that was taken to invest in these characters creating for a richer experience later on. This is a 2 and a half-hour film that knows how to pace itself. Ewan McGregor plays a grown-up version of Danny Torrence, the child from The Shining. I love the choice the film makes to allow us to spend quiet moments with the character. We get a good sense of who he is in these moments that, again, later enriches our experience because the film develops early on a connection to Danny through these moments. A lot of the time in horror films the villain can become very easily just a masked character that we don’t learn too much about. Doctor Sleep not only takes its time developing deep connections with its protagonist characters but with its villains as well. I thought Pennywise the Clown eating children was bad, meet Rose the Hat. Rose the Hat I feel will become a horror villain icon very soon one day. This is a charmingly sadistic character that is rich with flavour and ripe with potential and Rebecca Ferguson harvests all she can from Rose. She and her cult are given motives that make sense, the film perfectly lays out why they do what they do. Obviously, it doesn’t justify the actions they make, but it at least makes sense to the audience exactly what these people want. I won’t go into what this cult does as I didn’t know myself going into the film and loved learning first hand about it, but I will say what happens with them disturbed me to my core. I had a hard time watching some of the acts they commit in the film, I found myself crawling into my seat. One scene in particular with Jacob Trembley, who by the way puts in a bone-chilling performance in the very limited screen time he has, might have been the scariest thing I’ve seen this year.
Kyliegh Curran plays a young girl named Abra who has the shining gift but is exponentially more powerful than anybody we encounter throughout the film. This is an excellent child performance that is demanding as she is an integral role to film. I enjoyed her so much that I was anticipating her next scene whenever she was not on screen. These characters I’ve written about are what make this film. They are fully realized characters that I grew to care for and want to see succeed or wanted to see defeated in Rose the Hat’s case. The horror elements of the film feel so much more impactful because the characters we care for are now on the line. There are few jump scares in this film, which I usually hate jump scares, but in Doctor Sleep the jump scares feel earned and almost necessary to the plot.
I can’t speak for the book as I have not read it, but Doctor Sleep pays great respect for Kubrick’s The Shining and the legacy it has in our culture. I loved the recreation of the hotel or framing setups used in this film that is filmed exactly how Kubrick did it. There is one scene where Danny has an interview and the shots are set up exactly how they are set up during Jack’s interview in The Shining. Details like that add so much and pay great respect to beloved material while never feeling like ripping it off. Mike Flanagan does such a great job at making this film distinctively his while honouring the great Stanley Kubrick. His eye for unique visuals is some of the most inventive I’ve seen this year. There’s a particular visual with Rose the Hat searching for someone that I just loved. It was so unique and creatively appealing.
I do have a few flaws with the movie that I will address as this is not a perfect movie. First off there is a scene involving guns that felt a little off. The scene starts to play out almost like an action scene as the moment turns into a gun shoot out. It feels a little out of place in comparison to the rest of the film. Once we get to the third act, the film doubles down on The Shining visuals and while it’s very good and well handled, I couldn’t help but think about the amazing Jack Nicholson limping his way around the hotel with an ax trying to kill Shelley Duvall which started to distract me from the film I was watching a few times.
I love the title Doctor Sleep and what it means. It all goes back to the characters. The title of the film comes from one of those quieter moments I was talking about with Danny. Good character goes a long way in a film like this and luckily for us, Mike Flanagan has constructed a beautifully well-paced horror film populated with rich characters. This a scary film with brutal moments and haunting imagery. This is a must-see for any horror fans or fans of The Shining. Mike Flanagan was able to pull off what I thought would be an impossible task. I can not wait for Doctor Sleep to come out on home video so that I can proudly place it right beside The Shining where it rightfully belongs.