Written by Tom Button
Doctor Sleep is written, edited and directed by Mike Flanagan, based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Stephen King.
It stars Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran.
Set almost 40 years after The Shining, we reunite with ‘Dan’ (McGregor), who’s recovering from alcoholism and living with the torment from his childhood.
When he connects with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with the ability to ‘shine’ more powerfully, he must protect her from ‘the True Knot’. The cult of shine stealers is led by ‘Rose the Hat’ (Rebecca Ferguson), a devilish woman with a seemingly unstoppable lust for power. She and her band of hippie-like misfits try to track them down, leading to a climactic battle at a very familiar place…
McGregor as an older Danny is a great choice. He not only understands how the character worked, but he is also able to give the role more of an emotional boost.
As he has grown up, Dan has chosen a humble and lonely life. When he is introduced to Abra and others, he is forced to interact. McGregor is best in these scenes where he has to force out a line through almost-gritted teeth.
He is even better in quieter moments, which add a sombre atmosphere – these are painful to sit through. As he verbally battles with the ghosts of his past, he pours everything out, becoming a little boy again. This range and control of emotions make this character better – and a large part of that is McGregor. Every crack in his voice and every nuanced movement, is never overdone, a testament to the actor.
Curran is simply one of the breakout stars of the year, in her first big-budget blockbuster. As Stone, a shy and troubled girl struggling with her power, she hits it out of the park with her emotional and captivating performance.
When she is nervous, it comes across naturally, which is extremely rare in child actors today. The same can be said of her more terrifying scenes, in which she sells her ability to make tension-filled moments with ease. I was very surprised by how much I enjoyed her presence.
Ferguson also piqued my interest. As ‘Rose the Hat’, she comes across as the typical ‘big bad’ in these types of horror films, but there is a lot of charisma here too. Ferguson’s cool and suave presence, not only rocking the cut of a top hat but uses her charms to good effect.
What sets her apart from other modern horror villains is her wide emotional range. It is here that Ferguson explores her character and can tap into a vulnerability which is rarely seen in villains today. Not only does she have the charisma of a new era Hollywood baddie, but the emotion she can channel is welcomed and refreshing.
Flanagan, whose breakthrough came in Oculus (2013), presented a new face in horror. This was followed with the Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House and Gerald’s Game.
His love of horror is showcased throughout this film, his first high profile project, what a catch! With Doctor Sleep, Flanagan is in his element.
The look of the film is dour and dark, mirroring Kubrick’s work but never hinging on it completely. The cinematography by Michael Fimognari is at once intense – never shying away from torturous violence – and dreamlike.
Flanagan is also interested in family, with most of his work focusing on the dynamics of families and the horror which follows. Dan’s memories are brought to life in vivid detail, mixing grizzly imagery with moments of calm reflection. These quiet vignettes are well-acted and add a heart-breaking sadness to Dan’s character. Flanagan proves yet again that his love of the genre can elevate a blockbuster from something of a throwaway to a work of sinister art.
The talent on and off-screen is there and make the most of the source material. No, it’s not as good as Kubrick’s, but as a sequel, I was very intrigued and pretty enthralled with this story. McGregor, Curran and Ferguson are all great and Flanagan has a real eye for horror.
It wasn’t that scary, but very intense at times and was satisfying. It’s long and there is quite a bit of exposition sometimes, but this is overwritten by the loving homage to the past, not only in Torrance’s trauma but horror in general.
It takes one of the best and most influential films in the genre and builds on it wonderfully. It opens up the story and the universe in a natural way. Doctor Sleep takes pride in the original and remembers it fondly.
It’s a film rooted in memory, pain, guilt and family, bringing these aspects full circle in a film that is not only indebted to the original but leaves its frosty mark on us.