Weaponizing your greatest fear isn’t just for Batman anymore.
Following the horrific events at the Overlook Hotel he experienced as a child, young Danny Torrence finds himself haunted by the same ghosts that destroyed his father. His mentor Mr. Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) taught him a way to protect himself as a child, but Danny ultimately chose to bury his abilities… often inside a bottle. Running away from himself as an adult, Dan (Ewan McGregor) finds kinship in a friend named Billy (Cliff Curtis) who extends him up a second lease on life, but a periodic psychic connection to a distant mind is a reminder that Dan isn’t like most people. That other mind belongs to Abra (Kyliegh Curran), but without the knowledge of the dangers her powers draw to it, she has unfortunately attracted the attention of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her ravenous followers.
As any horror fan knows, Stephen King’s 1977 novel The Shining was famously made into a 1980 film of the same name by Stanley Kubrick starring Jack Nicholson. The film version was despised by the author since it excised the tragedy of the main character in favor of Jack Torrence being a pure monster. The 2013 novel Doctor Sleep was an unusual thing for King, a direct sequel to the book version of The Shining. Enter director Mike Flanagan, who adapted King’s nigh-unfilmable Gerald’s Game for Neflix, tasked with not only the screenplay for the sequel but also inclusion being a fan of Kubrick’s famed if flawed interpretation. Can a writer-director pay proper homage to the older movie elements while staying true to the original and new book concepts to the satisfaction of creators and fans alike?
From music cues to iconic imagery, Doctor Sleep knows the pedigree it comes from and where it needs to go. Reportedly remaking previous footage to minimize taking from Kubrick’s film — borrowing a mere three clips — the film version of the novelized sequel successfully pulls off a Rogue One: enhancing the old film and story’s shortcomings with no-name non-bronze no-prizes that complete both adaptations. Since the ending of both books and movies differ from their media counterparts, director Flanagan gives Kubrick’s film back the tragic Jack Torrence by allowing grown-up Danny a unique understanding, then completes it by circling back around to King’s original concept. In a rare happening inside the Hollywood hype machine, this Shining sequel understands and reworks continuity to elevate both films to the level of the novels’ intentions while wallowing in the ghost porn and supernatural elements horror fans crave.
Channeling the look of a Welsh-witch hippie Bo Derek, Rebecca Ferguson as dangerous-beauty “Rose The Hat” is pure femme fatale in her portrayal, disarming with a look and never needing to raise her voice… and God have mercy upon you if she ever does. While Ewan McGregor’s American-accented adult Danny is a pitch-perfect protagonist, it’s the catalyst of Rose that motivates the story. Kyliegh Curran’s Abra is also a force of nature, playing a wide-eyed not-so latent talent too naive to be as fearful as she should be but nonetheless unhampered by adults restricting her with artificial limitations. In addition to characterizations, the film is filled with Easter eggs with blink-or-you’ll-miss-them details and references to earlier King works. When Rose is targeting Emily Alyn Lind’s “Snakebite Andi,” she mentions not having seen “a Pusher” for a number of years; could that have possibly been a reference to Andy McGee from Firestarter? Also notice the anime character maquette on Abra’s desk and wall poster whom she’s clearly a fan of.
It should be noted that neither the novel nor the film pull any punches when it comes to the children being targeted by Rose’s group, the True Knot, but it walks the line of being horrific while stopping short of gratuity, a difficult task for any filmmaker wanting to “go there” in showing villainy. While Kubrick’s Shining felt padded at 144 minutes in length, Flanagan’s sequel seems barely contained within its slightly longer 151 minutes stretch. While 2017’s It: Chapter One and this year’s Chapter Two seemed like a dream come true for showcasing the imagination of Stephen King, Doctor Sleep exceeds them both. With all of these references to supernatural powers of King’s works, why isn’t there a series based on “The Shop” yet? Asking for a fiend.
Doctor Sleep is rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity, drug use, and literally getting under somebody’s skin.
Four skull recommendation out of four
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