Adapting the works of iconic horror author Stephen King is no simple task, but writer/director Mike Flanagan makes it look easy while pulling double duty in a fitting sequel to Kubrick’s horror classic.
I had an odd sense of intrigue towards this film, especially with news of Flanagan being behind the camera. For those that don’t know Flanagan as a filmmaker, he made a name for himself with Hush, Oculus, and Ouji: Origin of Evil before elevating himself to horror master by creating The Haunting of Hill House. With Flanagan, a big fan of King pulling the strings, Doctor Sleep ends up being the sequel we didn’t know we wanted and a perfect bookend to an iconic film, catching up with a much older Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and his personal trials.
Still haunted by the events of The Shining, Danny has become a drifter and tried to shut out the inner demons that lurk in his power. McGregor embodies this broken past and vulnerability perfectly. In facing the Overlook Hotel there’s a palpable amount of emotion in McGregor’s performance that I really didn’t expect. Flanagan uses Danny’s path to redemption to touch on the very natural fears that have made some of King’s best stories, not relying on creepy creatures but instead on more primal fears. Doctor Sleep focuses on the deepest fear of all – death itself. Danny’s role in aiding those at death’s door leads to some poignant and important discussions about death, religion, and deep-seated terrors that you don’t often see in film.
This idea of coping with death is also the driving force behind the film’s main antagonist, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her group of cannibals known as the True Knot who hunt people who “shine” like Danny. Though Rose and the True Knot aren’t the kinds of cannibals who feast on flesh, rather the power of those who shine. For those that have seen Monsters Inc., imagine the scream canisters’ energy being used to prolong life – and killing children in the process of harvesting it.
Their version of cannibalism is particularly horrifying as it focuses on evoking fear and pain in the children they pursue. It was also surprising to see the film do a deep dive into the group so that their motivations could be understood. Ferguson instills fear in every scene and makes Rose one of my favourite King villains to be brought to the big screen. She proves a deadly force to be reckoned with and finds a strong match in Danny and a young, even more powerful girl (Abra).
The film is really a mental battle between Abra (Kyliegh Curran) and Rose, with Danny finding the strength to face his demons in between Curran making it an absolute blast with her performance. She shows how strong and sensible she is with her power and is a dominating force when it comes to the film’s more mind-bending moments. There’s also an incredible amount of detail in the scares that are perfectly accompanied by a wonderful score from the Newton brothers. Despite the film’s length you’re always hooked on what’s happening and the only real complaint I have is that the finer details surrounding the shining power are still a little murky to me after viewing.
The thing that’s most impressive about Doctor Sleep is the way it utilises the original Shining story and Kubrick’s film without ever heavily relying on them, which is a difficult balancing act. The second the film gets to the Overlook Hotel, it’s as though a sleeping giant has been awakened and the horrors that follow are incredibly satisfying.
A seemingly impossible feat, Flanagan kills two birds with one stone creating an excellent sequel that evokes pure horror through career-best performances from McGregor and Ferguson, with confident direction and writing, proving King adaptations can continue to shine onscreen again.