When it comes to master storytellers they don’t come much bigger than Stephen King and when reflecting on the works of this famed author, his novel, The Shining, looms above all as one of, if not the most revered horror novel of all time. That book, along with the seminal and genre-defining film from director Stanley Kubrick has been the golden standard for the horror genre for decades and now it’s time for the next chapter. Filmmaker Mike Flanagan picks up the torch and takes audiences back to the horrors of the Overlook Hotel with Doctor Sleep and this adaptation makes for one very impressive piece of filmmaking.
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, 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 and her followers, The True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality. Forming 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.
Adapting Doctor Sleep as both writer and director, Mike Flanagan is recognized as a keen King connoisseur following his work on such films as Gerald’s Game and now this talented filmmaker gets to work on a long-overdue sequel. Flanagan pours all of himself as an artist into Doctor Sleep, and the result is a work that is packed full of originality and makes for an incredibly clever watch. While most audiences these days can dissect a horror movie pretty quickly, Flanagan’s understanding of King’s source material and Kubrick’s adaptation allow him to build out a piece of cinema that keeps his audience guessing at every turn. His narrative moves at a solid pace, and his work on Doctor Sleep turns into a ‘thinking man’s’ type of horror movie. Every part of this is packed full of unique craft and detail and Flanagan’s vision for Doctor Sleep truly leads to a film that can be branded as one of the most original pieces of cinema this year, along with being a film that will please both fans of King and Kubrick.
Taking on the lead role of a now-grown Dan Torrence is Ewan McGregor and the Scottish thespian shines here. McGregor’s Dan goes on quite a journey through the film’s narrative and his character arc kind of moves from Z to A, rather than A to Z. When we first meet him he’s below rock bottom and the ghosts can’t seem to leave him alone. But when he finally stumbles upon a new purpose in his life he’s able to use his shine productively…for a time anyway. Then, of course, the darkness rears its head and Dan is straight back into the nightmare realm and it gets very interesting from here. McGregor’s performance is subdued here and revolves around the emotion of fear. He’s able to showcase a totally haunted man and you empathise with Dan’s lot in life because of it. Doctor Sleep is a credit to McGregor’s skill as a performer and he brings his A-game here.
Facing off against McGregor is Rebecca Ferguson as the nefarious Rose the Hat and Ferguson brings plenty of menace to the big thanks to Doctor Sleep. As the leader of a cannibalistic cult who feeds on the life force or ‘steam’ of those possessed of the shining, she’s not one to be crossed and her hunger is terrible. Part of Ferguson’s intrigue in her villainous form as Rose the Hat comes from the character’s cunning and intelligence. She’s a woman on a mission, who carries a dark and dangerous cause and who desires to amass ever greater life and power by taking from those who shine…and she has no qualms about doing it. This makes her an incredibly dangerous adversary for Dan Torrence and the young and gifted Abra (Kyliegh Curran). Every great story needs a compelling villain and Rose the Hat is a terrifying force to be reckoned with and Ferguson nails the character and her menace here.
Doctor Sleep is a film that works on every single level. From character to narrative and especially concerning its brilliant visual effects as Flanagan rethinks the notion of the shining. The director employs great use of surrealism to take audiences inside the minds of our main character as they employ their shine, and the resulting visuals and his mind-bending footage takes you further inside the narrative onscreen. And it’s impressive to witness. As to the film’s use of horror Flanagan saves the bulk of this for Dan Torrence’s penultimate return to the Overlook Hotel and there’s plenty of scares here. Flanagan amps up the horror of the Overlook and the dread builds as you fully realise that this is the most terrifying place that Dan Torrence could ever return to…and for good reason too.
Doctor Sleep is a well crated and extremely clever piece of cinema that audiences will certainly lap up. Its director’s vision and the talent of its key cast make it one of the most original films to arrive in cinemas this year and should you witness it you’ll be extremely glad you did. Although maybe keep a night light handy…because there’s plenty of scares to keep you up in the dark.
Image: Roadshow Films