DOCTOR SLEEP is the latest film from director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House), based on the novel by Stephen King, and is a direct sequel to The Shining. The film centers around a now-adult Danny Torrance who meets a young girl that possesses the “shine” who he must protect from a cult known as The True Knot. The film stars Ewan McGregor (Star Wars: Episode I, II & III, T2 Trainspotting), Rebecca Ferguson (the Mission: Impossible films, The Greatest Showman), Kyliegh Curran, in her first major feature film debut, as well as Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe and Cliff Curtis. To best describe the plot, I’ll turn to the official synopsis:
“Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child at the Overlook, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has fought to find some semblance of peace. But that peace is shattered when he encounters Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the ‘shine’. Instinctively recognizing that Dan shares her power, Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality. Following an unlikely alliance, Dan and Abra engage in a brutal life-or-death battle with Rose. Abra’s innocence and fearless embrace of her shine compel Dan to call upon his own powers as never before – at once facing his fears and reawakening the ghosts of the past.”
DOCTOR SLEEP wastes no time introducing us to our main villain, Rose the Hat, as the film opens with an encounter between her and a young girl named Violet (who many will recognize from The Haunting of Hill House). Though we don’t know the full extent of Rose’s actions till later, this scene sets the stage for the tone and horror that is to come. The film then takes the viewer on a journey back to the Overlook Hotel where we meet a young Dan Torrance and become privy to the effects that the hotel, and his late father, had on his life. When we finally meet adult Danny, it’s clear that life has not been kind to him, mostly because of his own doing. He does whatever is necessary to dull his shine, turning to alcohol, drugs, and whatever else will numb the pain, while drifting from town to town. He eventually ends up in Frazier, NH, where he meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) who helps him get a job at Teeny Town, a miniature railroad in the center of town, before bringing him to his first AA meeting.
At the same time that all of this is transpiring, we get a glimpse into the world of young Abra – fascinated with magic, she shows her parents that, just like the magician at her birthday, she also knows how to do magic tricks. The only problem is hers aren’t sleight of hand, as she makes all the silver spoons in the house hang from the ceiling. Meanwhile, Rose the Hat, along with her followers, is looking for new recruits. After visiting a local theater, they meet Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), a 15-year-old girl who possesses the power to put anyone to sleep, though her specialty is directed towards child predators. Rose immediately latches on and, in her own special way, invites Andy to join The True Knot. This may seem like a lot of information to latch on to, but trust me when I say it all becomes relevant. The movie then brings us 8 years to the present where Danny, Abra, and Rose begin to learn of each other’s existence and the fight between life and death and power and submission comes crashing down.
What I instantly picked up on was that, to me, DOCTOR SLEEP was a study on tragedy and pain. It dives into the demons of our past, bringing them to the forefront in all their unpleasantries. It also shows that there is power in being different – both good and bad – but ultimately showing that there is nothing wrong in being different or special. Like most of Flanagan’s work, DOCTOR SLEEP pulls on emotional triggers – allowing viewers the chance to become even more invested in the characters as they navigate the dangerous terrain they have found themselves in. I immediately took to Danny Torrance, having had my own struggles with alcoholism as well as loads of Daddy issues. It was hard not to feel a level of sympathy for Danny, especially since I was familiar with his story in both Stephen King’s book and Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation (which if you haven’t read or seen, you definitely should). Ewan McGregor gives one of his best performances in his portrayal of Danny, eliciting emotions ranging from hopelessness to pure terror, eventually reaching a point of determination and, dare I say, peace.
Once Danny meets Abra, his vision of things completely changes and their dynamic becomes one of the best parts of the film. Kyliegh Curran absolutely kills it as Abra and is a total star in the making. I loved seeing her entire arc come to fruition starting with wonderment over her skills that transforms into unwavering strength. I can’t imagine that this was an easy role to take on, but she embodies it so well that you would think her performance was from a well-seasoned actor. The juxtaposition between her and Danny’s acceptance of their shine is another area of the film that I enjoyed the dissection of. As opposed to Danny, who has to come around and fully accept his shine, Abra fully embraces it, regardless of the danger that comes her way because of it.
Speaking of danger, it’s time to talk about my favorite character of the film, Rose the Hat, played brilliantly by actress Rebecca Ferguson. Rose, and her merry band of soul suckers, feed off the innocence of children, especially those that carry a shine. That might not seem like a big deal on paper, but Flanagan does not shy away from the horrors that unfold when Rose finds her young victims. I love a good villain and Rebecca’s performance as Rose is nothing short of chilling. Even better is when you first meet her in the film, she comes across as unassuming and warm – a tactic that helps in breaking down her victims and giving them a false sense of comfort. Also, is it wrong that I felt insanely attracted to Rose? Like, I know she’s a horrific killer but damn, Rebecca’s performance is so magnetic that you can’t help but be drawn into the world that she has created (minus the child-killing part).
As for the presentation of the film, Flanagan adds in imagery that is surreal and hallucinogenic, making you feel as if you are in a dream, or nightmare, depending on what’s unfolding. There aren’t many moments that feature gore but the ones that do are jarring and intense. I will give a warning to parents, there is a particularly disturbing scene that does involve a child so you might want to be prepared before seeing the movie. The moments that really bring out the electricity of the scenes have to do when Abra and Rose confront each other, both in real-life and in a more dream-like state. One of my favorite scenes happens to be when Rose thinks she has gained access into the memories of Abra, only for her to find out that things aren’t exactly what she thought they were. Rose is powerful, there’s no doubt about that, but it would seem like she found her match in Abra. Obviously, when the three of them (including Danny) meet for the final match, it’s at that point that you’ll find yourself on the edge of your seat questioning who you should really be championing for (or maybe that’s just me because I love Rebecca Ferguson). The scale and magnitude of what Flanagan has created in bringing DOCTOR SLEEP to life is nothing short of impressive and transcends into an all-encompassing experience that surpasses just the acting and visuals.
For the die-hard Stephen King fans, you’ll find a lot to enjoy with this sequel. Flanagan makes sure to include plenty of Easter Eggs to discover throughout the 2-1/2 hour runtime. The most obvious being the return to the Overlook Hotel which is one of the more stunning moments in the film. That said, I do wish we had the opportunity to spend more time in the hotel as I felt like the importance of these scenes needed a bit more length to them. That said, the amount of nostalgia that these moments bring is intoxicating, with one scene, in particular, bringing the whole film full circle. I wish I could go into more detail in this review but I don’t want to ruin it for anyone, just trust me when I say it’s epic. That’s just one of the many moments that King fans will jump for joy at and one of the reasons why this film is so much more than just another scary movie. It truly takes King’s original work, meshes it with the stylized visuals of Stanley Kubrick’s film while also putting Flanagan’s special touch on it, making DOCTOR SLEEP this year’s best King adaptation.
In all, I can’t say enough good things about DOCTOR SLEEP. It’s emotional, it’s scary, it’s poignant, and it continues the story of one of the most famous characters in all of King’s work. I don’t know if there will be another addition to this series, and though I haven’t read the book yet, I hope there isn’t. To me, the film ended on a perfect note. Flanagan continues to prove, time and again, he is a master at his craft with DOCTOR SLEEP being another shining example of that. DOCTOR SLEEP is now available to own on 4K UHD, Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital. For those who pick up the 4K and Blu-ray, they include the following special features such as “Return to the Overlook”, “The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision” and “From Shining to Sleep.” Also, the home video release features a Director’s Cut that fans will definitely not want to miss.