DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed and Edited by: Mike Flanagan
Produced by: Trevor Macy, Jon Berg
Screenplay by: Mike Flanagan – Based on Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Cliff Curtis, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Carl Lumbly, Jacob Tremblay etc.
Music: The Newton Brothers
***MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS***
I read Stephen King’s classic novel The Shining when I was eleven. I didn’t quite understand the complexities of the supernatural elements, but I understood the emotion of a mother and child trapped within a traumatic family scenario. When I watched the film a year later in 1982, on VHS video, I recall not quite grasping the complex and creeping genius of Kubrick’s adaptation. I wanted them to get to the bit where the guy goes nuts with the axe!!
Flash forward many decades, and having seen The Shining (1980) more times than I can remember, I now feel that it’s one of the best horror films of all time. It is meticulously directed, edited and designed and feel like I understand it. Having said that, I still see something new in it every time I watch it. I guess what I’m trying to say is I grew up and grew older with King’s characters and Kubrick’s film, so a sequel has a lot to live up to.
While I haven’t read Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep, I was confident screenwriter and director, Mike Flanagan, was a good choice for the continuation of the story of Danny Torrance and his ‘Shining’ gift. Flanagan is a solid and unflashy genre filmmaker. He presents characters and narratives in a considered style, allowing the concepts to flourish and actors to shine. I would recommend you check out his previous work on The Haunting of Hill House (2018), Gerald’s Game (2017), Hush (2016) and the very under-rated, Before I Wake (2016).
Doctor Sleep (2019) is a film, typically for King, about good versus evil. It’s also about recovery, addiction, finding yourself, death, defeating one’s demons and appreciating your inner gifts. It opens by re-establishing the trauma young Danny Torrance suffered at the Overlook Hotel. Flanagan takes great joy re-enacting scenes, locations and characters from the Kubrick adaptation. These are striking and impressive at first. I must say though, the shadow of the original The Shining (1980), arguably impinges too much in the final act. Nonetheless, as a fanatic of the original film, Flanagan is clearly having a lot of fun re-introducing ghosts of the past.
Thematically the film opens very strongly. As Danny Torrance attempts recovery from alcoholism, Ewan McGregor delivers a compelling performance. His scenes as an orderly in a hospice present some really moving moments, as he finally finds a place to utilize his telepathic gifts positively. The action really kicks in when he is contacted via ‘Shining’ by a teenage girl, Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran). She is an incredible young talent and soon her gifts are putting her in danger. A nefarious troupe of energy vampires led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), feed off the ‘shine’ of these children to sustain their existence.
Rebecca Ferguson and Zahn McClarnon as Rose the Hat and Crow Daddy represent formidable nemeses in the narrative. Their group, ‘The True Knot’, reminded me off the vampires from Near Dark (1987) and also the carnival monsters from Ray Bradbury’s Something Wicked This Way Comes. Ferguson is especially alluring. She’s both sensual and attractive, but with a dark, wicked heart internally. I would have liked a bit more history of their vampiric troupe, but they were memorable villains and symbolic of the veracious nature of addiction.
Doctor Sleep (2019) is, above all else, another solid genre adaptation of King’s work. Indeed, Mike Flanagan has delivered a visually impressive and psychologically interesting film. Arguably, I felt, it was much stronger when concentrating on Danny’s movement toward recovery in the first half. Having said that this theme is played out in the inevitable face off with Rose the Hat at the end. The denouement, while generically necessary is still creepy and highly satisfying though.
As I said, the over-reliance on the images and scenes from the original The Shining (2019), while necessary, impact the sequel’s identity a tad. However, as a psychologically moving film it works very well. I suppose it could have been scarier in places, but Stephen King’s concepts retain power and really get under the skin in Flanagan’s capable hands. There is a powerful air of familiarity to the tale, but I love stories that delve into addiction and telepathic characters; especially in the horror genre. Ultimately, this is where Doctor Sleep (2019) shines. In fact, while it is a long film, it never drags and could have benefited from an episodic TV adaptation to explore the characters and fantastic concepts further.