Review: Mike Flanagan's 'Doctor Sleep' Film is Not to Be Overlooked
by Adam Frazier
November 8, 2019
In 2011, Mike Flanagan wrote, edited, and directed his first feature, the low-budget indie horror Absentia. After the success of his Kickstarter-funded indie film, Flanagan got the opportunity to adapt his own 2006 short, Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man with the Plan, as a feature. The Blumhouse-produced Oculus made $45 million at the box office on a $5 million budget, signifying Flanagan as a unique up-and-coming voice in the genre. Then in 2016, the Salem, Massachusetts native cemented himself as a genuine horror auteur with the releases of Hush, Before I Wake, and Ouija: Origin of Evil, all three of which he wrote, edited, and directed. A year later, Flanagan was called up to the majors, first adapting the Stephen King novel Gerald's Game as a Netflix Original Film and, shortly thereafter, the critically acclaimed 10-episode series The Haunting of Hill House, based on Shirley Jackson's 1959 book. Now, the seasoned filmmaker takes on Doctor Sleep, an adaptation of King's 2013 novel of the same name, which is a sequel to his 1977 bestseller, The Shining.
Stanley Kubrick's original 1980 adaptation of The Shining is regarded as one of the greatest horror movies ever made. It's also one of the more notorious examples of the potential divide between an author's words and a filmmaker's vision, with Kubrick's movie taking creative license with various elements of the story, including the fate of the Overlook Hotel, and its characters. With Doctor Sleep, Flanagan has to honor both Kubrick and King, reconciling disparate sources to deliver a story that works not only as an adaptation of the 2013 novel but as a sequel to both King's '77 book and Kubrick's iconic film. Somehow, he does exactly that, creating a new film that lovingly recreates the dread-inducing imagery of Kubrick's while offering a more emotionally resonant and cathartic narrative.
The film stars Golden Globe-winning actor Ewan McGregor (most recently seen in Christopher Robin) as Dan Torrance. Scarred by the unspeakable horrors he endured as a child at the Overlook Hotel, Dan has become an alcoholic to suppress his psychic abilities. He moves to the town of Frazier, New Hampshire, where he befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis of The Meg and Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw) and begins the long road to recovery. Billy also helps him get back on his feet with a job working as an orderly at a hospice and serves as his AA sponsor. With his newfound sobriety, Dan's Shining abilities return, allowing him to use his gifts to comfort dying patients, who give him the nickname "Doctor Sleep."
Meanwhile, Dan also begins to receive telepathic communications from Abra Stone (newcomer Kyliegh Curran), a teenage girl whose Shine is even more powerful than his. Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson of the Mission: Impossible series) and her followers, the "True Knot", who feed off the Shine of gifted innocents in their quest for immortality. After escaping his father's legacy of darkness and addiction, Dan must go back to the Overlook and face his fears, reawakening the ghosts of the past, to help Abra in her own struggle against Rose the Hat.
No matter where you fall on The Shining – whether you think it's a masterpiece or you prefer the novel – Flanagan's Doctor Sleep is a worthy continuation of the story. As Dan, McGregor delivers a performance that is filled with empathy and humanity. He is someone we can understand and relate to – a flawed person who has weaknesses and demons but an incredible capacity for kindness. My issue with Kubrick's film has always been that it's difficult to care about any of the characters. For me, a great horror story has to have characters worth investing in and caring about, or else it doesn't matter what horrifying things happen to them. Jack Nicholson's Jack Torrance isn't the tragic hero, wounded by a traumatic childhood, that King created. He's an unlikeable psychopath from the get-go, impossible to sympathize with. But here, thanks to McGregor's performance and Flanagan's writing, Dan is a character we care about. In a lot of ways, he's King's version of Jack Torrance, inside the cinematic universe Kubrick created.
A fantastic supporting cast helps flesh out the continuity between Kubrick's 1980 film and this sequel, while introducing new characters like Rose the Hat and the True Knot that expand the established mythology. Alex Essoe and Roger Dale Floyd play Wendy and Danny in flashbacks while Carl Lumbly takes over the role of Dick Hallorann, whose ghost occasionally shows up. Frequent Flanagan collaborators Robert Longstreet, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, and Carel Struyken also appear. If anything is lacking, it's more screen time for Abra and Rose, who are central to the plot, even if it is ultimately Dan's story. Overall, Doctor Sleep is not only a great adaptation of King's nuanced dark fantasy novel, but an impeccably crafted sequel to an iconic film and its often under-appreciated source material. As someone who appreciates Kubrick's film on a technical level but is left anesthetized by the storytelling, Flanagan's latest work improves upon the 1980 classic by making it the haunting prologue to a much more affecting story.
Adam's Rating: 4 out of 5
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