Doctor Sleep Review – Come Back and Play With Us Danny
It’s been nearly 40 years since our last visit to The Overlook Hotel and now it’s time to open the doors and “Come play with us…” as Doctor Sleep arrives in cinemas. It may have been decades since Stanley Kubrick terrified audiences with his adaption of The Shining, and even longer since Stephen King penned the original, but this story of the supernatural still has more to offer us.
Doctor Sleep, based on the King novel from 2013, picks up with Danny (Ewan McGregor) just over thirty years since the incidents at The Overlook. Danny, going by Dan now, seems to believe, just like Daddy, that the answer to his trauma is at the bottom of a bottle. Unlike Jack, Dan’s overindulgence in alcohol is his way of keeping his abilities dormant and quietening the past.
Through the guidance of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), and just a pinch more trauma, Dan decides to move to a small town and joins an AA group. He begins to readjust, using his ‘shining’ to comfort those who are close to death, which earns him the affectionate nickname ‘Doctor Sleep’. With his powers active again he begins to recieve messages from a young girl, Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), who can also ‘shine.
Yet, not everyone who can ‘shine’ is a good guy. Doctor Sleep introduces us to the True Knot, a group of psychic vampires led by the enigmatic Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). The True Knot survive by draining the life force from people with the ‘shining’ ability, collection this ‘steam’ to maintain their youth and make them practically immortal. After they abduct and torture a young boy for his ‘steam’, a now teenage Abra senses the murder and her contact, and mission, with Uncle Dan begins.
“Flanagan isn’t as interested in alienating his audience. Instead he draws us into every beautiful moment and offers us internal struggles and slow build psychological haunts.”
Doctor Sleep had a very tight line to tread, or more specifically it’s writer, director and editor Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush & The Haunting of Hill House) did. Not only did Flanagan have to tell an interesting story about a character whose origins are well known in pop culture, he had to please King in his adaptation of the novel whilst still making it a sequel to Kubrick’s original to keep the audience happy. That’s a lot to juggle for anyone, yet Flanagan seemed the perfect person for the job given his recent success in adaptations and his status as modern horror legend.
The story of Doctor Sleep is a much more personal and humanistic than that of The Shining. Unlike Kubrick, Flanagan isn’t as interested in alienating his audience. Instead he draws us into every beautiful moment and offers us internal struggles and slow build psychological haunts. This is a film about the perils of addiction and the residual energy of trauma. It is delicate in ways that The Shining could, and probably should, never have been. This is Danny’s story, not Jack’s, and that’s what makes this film more sensitive.
Danny returns to The Overlook and, of course, we are revisited by some familiar images. There may be complaints about the overuse of nostalgic The Shining images here but this is where the film bridges the generations of viewers. It introduces visuals to a new audience who may not have seen The Shining whilst also allowing those who have it tattooed on their horror hearts to revel in it once more.
Nostalgia without a purpose is pandering, nostalgia as a way of revisiting the trauma of our lead, and also exposing the new generation to a world that has always been there, is smart. It is a loop, the place where everything began should of course be the place that the showdown ends.
Doctor Sleep offers up a multitude of spine-tingling visuals with haunting effects that will stick with you long after the credits. They may not be the ‘big scares’ from The Shining but they are a spectacle in their own way. Some of the most appealing effects came from a scene of astral projection in which Rose the Hat travels to Abra’s bedroom. The world tilts and warps with effortless beauty and just enough dream logic that it feels real (Honestly, I now want to see Flanagan tackle ‘Nobody True’ by James Herbert). It is these quiet visuals that bring the right atmosphere to Doctor Sleep.
Alongside these visuals are the incredible performances which make sure that, even with a long runtime, there’s never a dropped moment. Even during pensive silences the cast delivers on every level. McGregor plays broken perfectly. Ferguson is the right mix of dangerous and enticing. Lumbly as Hallorann may actually be a clone of Crothers who played the character in the original, and of course Alex Esseo is stunning in her depiction of Wendy Torrence, bringing a voice and mannerisms that melt the audience right back into the 80’s film.
The stand out performance comes from a young Curran as Abra Stone, a young woman dealing with her gift and the danger it has introduced into her life. Curran shines throughout this film (pun 100% intended) bringing maturity and energy to the role. Casting a young actor in horror can really make or break the film and Curran is definitely a star in the making. She is a powerhouse in every sense of the word.
Doctor Sleep may never reach the undeniable heights its predecessor did, but it stands tall on its own merit. It is a sequel that brings a new tone and a change of direction with it, possibly leading to less reliance on its ‘Father Film’ in future iterations. Modern audiences will appreciate the removal of the ‘Magical Negro’ trope and the lack of Native American references that clearly age some of King’s work. With talks of a possible sequel focussing on Abra, and even a film dedicated to exploring the character of Hallorann, it is clear that the ‘shine’ is still strong in this franchise.