Doctor Sleep review Ewan McGregor Kyliegh Curran

Year: 2019
Director(s): Mike Flanagan
Writer(s): Mike Flanagan
Region of Origin: USA
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Rating: R
Color, 152 mins

Synopsis: Years following the events of “The Shining,” a now-adult Dan Torrance must protect a young girl with similar powers from a sinister cult. (Source)

Over the years, the gulf between Stephen King’s The Shining, and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has only grown larger. Kubrick turned King’s prose into a more abstract form of terror, eschewing hard answers and birthing an endless amount of conspiratorial conjecture. It’s a behemoth of a film that needs no introduction, and fittingly, a vision that can’t be topped. On the other hand, King went and created a sequel to his novel, pulling forward ideas that Kubrick had decided to present in his own way. Now, director Mike Flanagan joined these two visions. Doctor Sleep is a satisfying blend of fantasy and existential angst that allows Flanagan’s own voice to take center stage. While the herculean efforts won’t please everyone, it’s evident that Flanagan’s a brave filmmaker with the chops to create expertly crafted stories with terrifying sincerity. 

Coming out of the events that transpired at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd) is without a father and deeply scarred. The evil forces that overtook his father still haunt him due to his psychic shining abilities. Though he finds a way to keep them at bay, he’s scarred for life. As an adult, a rudderless Danny (Ewan McGregor) is given a second chance by the inhabitants of a small, New Hampshire town. His new life is quickly upended, however, when a group of vampiric nomads targets Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with an inexplicable connection to Danny. This group, calling themselves the True Knots, feeds on the steam of those who can shine, leeching off of these powers to prolong their lives and sinister abilities. In order to halt a war before it threatens everything they know, Danny and Abra join forces. 

Plain and simple, Flanagan’s film works because of his penchant for turning trauma and grief into stylish, horror-tinged catharsis. This isn’t a nostalgia riff looking to ape Kubrick. It’s an effort that mostly (until the third act anyways), stands on its own as a portrait of awakening, finding purpose and learning to live with our emotional scars. Flanagan digs deep to look at how trauma crosses generations and how it can be harnessed or abused. On every level, he expertly splices horror and fantasy while balancing service to character. Instead of Kubrick’s distant but primal unease, this film is steeped in mythological lore, world building and human relationships. At the center is a simple, yet elegant group of characters, each navigating different forms of trauma while trying to exist within a broken world. It all adds up to a bold studio film that rises above merely ticking the standard genre checkboxes. This is something that sinks its teeth into us. It’s as dark as it is beautiful and as satisfying as it is painful.  

Doctor Sleep Rebecca Ferguson

Playing off of Flanagan’s eloquent direction, is an ensemble who doesn’t skip a beat. At the top, Ewan McGregor’s Danny is a great center for the film. He embodies all of its disparate ideas, personal stakes and tragic humanity. There’s a maturity to the performance that is integral and a key to grounding the film’s supernatural elements. As Abra, Kyliegh Curran is the film’s beating heart and its not-so-hidden strength. Curran has a pretty meaty role, with a precocious slant and a confidence that’s wholly rewarding. Together, McGregor and Curran are two sides of the same coin, matching each other beat-for-beat to create to powerfully defined protagonists. On the flipside, Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose the Hat is so deliciously evil. Ferguson is relishing the role, having fun with it and balancing both paralyzing evil and tongue-in-cheek mischievousness. We can easily enter her character into the pantheon of horror baddies. The rest of the backing cast, from Cliff Curtis’ graceful Billy, to Alex Essoe’s Wendy and Carl Lumbly’s Dick Hallorann tie everything else together. 

Doctor Sleep is a film that shouldn’t work, and yet it does. It’s a testament to Flanagan’s talent for pinpointing focused emotional hooks and amplifying them in ways that truly resonate. Despite the admittedly dense narrative, there’s a simplicity that’s balanced and honest. In the end, Flanagan is confronting the wounds that change us, ones that fester over time and grow, but also the people who help get us through the darkness that hides deep within. There’s a maturity here that highlights the inevitability of death, but also the grace of memory, time and forgiveness.