“Monsters are real, and ghosts are real too. They live inside us, and sometimes, they win.” -Stephen King, The Shining
Doctor Sleep is technically a sequel to the film version of The Shining and of the book but with two drastically different approaches to the same story how does someone continue the story in the same universe? You do it by making it your own, by giving it a different voice entirely without forgetting about what was and how that history can positively influence the continuation of the story from an entirely different perspective. Basically, the writer and director Mike Flanagan combined the best of both worlds to create something both familiar and wholly unique to his vision which if you’re a fan of his previous work you’ll know is a very good thing.
If I wasn’t clear before I will be crystal here, Doctor Sleep is not a sequel to The Shining in the understanding that Doctor Sleep is anything like The Shining. Meaning if you’re expecting and hoping for The Shining 2.0, with similar vibes and pacing and cerebral mind-fuckery you will be sorely disappointed. Doctor Sleep is very much its own thing with its own voice and viewpoint of a world fans of The Shining just might recognize. It embraces the old and hopes you’ll welcome the new as you once did with all that is now considered old news. The Shining was new to everyone at one point or another and eventually, for most, it became a staple of horror greatness. Doctor Sleep simply wants the same opportunity to prove itself worthy of the same kind of embrace.
I think the validity of this new chapter in the life of Danny Torrance can be verified by the director’s previous work as it is a stellar array of horror greatness. While his career didn’t start in this decade it was 2013’s Oculus that put Mike Flanagan’s name on the horror map. From that point on he has helmed some serious stand out films quickly becoming one of the most renowned horror directors of our time. Hush, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald’s Game, and one of the best series of 2018 and arguably 2019 as well, The Haunting of Hill House were all created by Mike Flanagan. I’m a fan if you couldn’t tell. So when I heard he was helming his own interpretation of Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep, a sequel of sorts to The Shining, I was all in from the get-go.
If you know his work you will recognize the dna of his style all over Doctor Sleep. He likes to write complicated and flawed characters but often with redeeming qualities that will inevitably come into play at the climax of whatever story he’s creating. He believes in ambiance in setting and musical score to help raise the scares he creates to another level entirely. While not afraid of blood and gore, like the greatest horror creators he knows imagination is a tool that can do a lot of the heavy lifting when it comes to creating terrifying sequences. He knows one of the key factors in scaring an audience is getting us to like the characters, even the more nefarious types. He gets you to connect to the flawed humanity in all of us by making his characters as imperfect and as real as anyone living their normal day to day.
With Doctor Sleep we see a grown up Danny Torrance still very much plagued by the events that shaped him at The Overlook Hotel. He suffers from PTSD and alcoholism, a trait passed down to him by his long lost father, Jack Torrance. While finding ways to maintain a somewhat normal existence it becomes clear to Danny that his past has no intention of staying put and is going to show itself again violently and with a head spinning immediacy.
Much in the same way Dick Hallorann helped him fight the demons of his shining, Danny discovers a little girl far more powerful than him and thus far more in danger of those looking to obtain what she possesses. Of particular danger is a cult known as The True Knot, led by the sinister, albeit very sexy, Rose the Hat, played emphatically by Rebecca Ferguson. Her goal is to obtain the “steam” or as Danny knows it, the “shining” within anyone that has the special ability. Little does either side realize, this will be a battle of wills and abilities unlike anything they have ever experienced.
Similar in tone to The Haunting of Hill House, this story is one of facing the past that haunts and shapes the present and future of the damaged characters who find themselves in the grasp of horror itself. It is a chance at redemption in the face of insurmountable obstacles hell bent on the demise of any challengers. It is an acknowledgment that because evil never sleeps those that can stop it have an obligation to do so, even in the likelihood of their own downfall. It is about finding the good in oneself again often through the help of those that need it most. Add in a heaping of horrendous acts of violence, mental torture, and a metaphorical mountain of salt on open wounds, Doctor Sleep is terror incarnate.
While not exactly scary in the ghosts and jump scares sense, those are present, its main course of horror comes from the mystery of not knowing what happens when these people clash in a glorious melee of who “shines” the brightest. But make no mistake, along with the living is a bevy of demons long starved and dying to let loose once again. The performances, in particular the main three characters, Danny (Ewan McGregor), Abra (Kyliegh Curran), and Rose (Ferguson) are raw and commanding in both vulnerability and ferocity. Ferguson is of special note absolutely stealing every scene she’s in. She emotes a sexuality that is both titillating and intimidating as you learn more about her abilities and tendencies toward malevolent acts. Her performance is a highlight of 2019.
Doctor Sleep is yet another example of Flanagan’s mastery of the genre and his understanding of shattered humanity and its instinctive desire to right the wrongs of past transgressions. Remember that this film has its own voice with an appreciation for what came before it without being overly in awe of it so much so that it might not attempt to become something more than an empty attempt at nostalgia with cheap scares. Doctor Sleep is anything but generic horror nostalgia, but rather a practice in proper horror technique and adaptation. It is a triumph of the genre.
Rated R For: disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use
Runtime: 151 minutes
After Credits Scene: No
Genre: Horror, Drama, Fantasy
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis
Directed By: Mike Flanagan
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 4.5
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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