Doctor Sleep arrives in UK cinemas from 31st October, 2019 from Warner Bros.
Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child at the Overlook, Dan Torrance 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.
I can’t imagine ever being chosen as the person to bring to life a sequel to The Shining, one of the most revered films of Kubrick’s career and equally a pinnacle in author Stephen King’s library.
So sitting in the Everyman cinema in Angel, London, watching director Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy talk about doing just that, in that moment the weight of Warner Bros. decision felt all too real.
To then watch Doctor Sleep is to experience not just its psychological horrors but also the painstakingly accurate process with which it was created.
What is instantly striking about the film is the way in which is honors all versions of the source material: both the film and book of The Shining and also the Doctor Sleep original text. All are strong forces at play in Flanagan’s script which balances each with the dignity and respect which they deserve.
King’s thoughts on Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film starring Jack Nicholson are easily discovered in just a few clicks so there is no way those words didn’t haunt Flanagan and his team during production.
But rather than be overwhelmed by King’s thoughts, Flanagan rises above it to craft a film which is equally as compelling as its predecessor and scary in new and imaginative ways.
The script for Doctor Sleep calls on cinematographer Michael Fimognari (The Haunting of Hill House) to evoke the atmosphere of original cinematographer John Alcott’s work on a number of occasions. Paying homage to The Overlook Hotel in both its past and present state.
Long, wide shots lovingly recreate The Shining but present it from an entirely new perspective to the audience. These moments also soak up all of the work that Flanagan and production designers Maher Ahmad (Zombieland) and Patricio M. Farrell (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles – 2014) have done to rebuild the sets as they were seen in 1980.
Audiences can be forgiven for thinking that certain shots were repatriated from the original when in fact almost all of the 2hr 31min runtime is brand new footage. Flanagan confirmed to the audience at our screening that only three shots in the entire of Doctor Sleep were shot by Kubrick.
But not only are the sets recreated than plenty of the original film’s cast. Young Danny Torrance as well as his mother Wendy and all of The Overlook’s ghosts are lovingly recast with solid actors who just happen to bear a striking resemblance to their predecessors.
But despite all of these lovingly recreated moments, Doctor Sleep is still an incredibly original film experience.
The story of Doctor Sleep is a very different one to The Shining. For those who haven’t read the novel it’s really an emotional sequel and connected only via locations and returning characters. The nature of the story is much more rooted in the supernatural aspects of King’s original novel than the psychological horrors the supernatural causes.
The isolation of The Shining is replaced by a much larger cast of characters and, in many ways, Doctor Sleep is like a cautionary vampire tale. It’s villains, some ancient in age, seeking out children who possess abilities like Danny’s in order to suck them out to extend their own lives.
Ewan McGregor excels as the adult Dan Torrance. When we first meet Dan in the present day he’s overcome with demons of his own making having followed in his father’s footsteps. To see him overcome with drink and drug problems is a downbeat beginning for a character we come to feel much emotion for by the third act.
There’s an instantly identifiable and likable quality to McGregor which follows him through his films and this is no different. I felt an instant affinity for Dan purely because McGregor is such a likable actor and that works in the film’s favour.
As compelling as Dan is though, the film absolutely belongs to Rebecca Ferguson. She plays Rose the Hat as an absolute powerhouse of a villain. Rose is often regarded as one of the best antagonists in King’s books and that is truly well represented on screen.
Ferguson embodies Rose’s belief that she is the hero of her own story and in doing so that makes her all the more dangerous. As Rose is bested by Abra the disbelief she portrays is childlike and utterly believable. But at the same time she feels formidable and in control. The nuance which Ferguson brings to the character is truly remarkable.
Young Kyleigh Curran in the role of Abra is also able to stand tall against her co-stars. Though this is only her second film credit she brings a youthful energy to Abra which somehow remains untarnished despite the events which unfold around her.
When her father is killed by members of Rose’s True Knot club it does feel slightly disingenuous that Abra isn’t given a scene in which to grieve. Though we do see her upset it feels as if the moment isn’t given the emotional weight it deserves and even a callback moment at the end of the film seems to gloss over this development.
Curran has an excellent rapport with McGregor which helps make the bond between the two believable and she is also able to stand against Ferguson and portray Abra as a credible threat to Rose’s status quo. It’s not an easy feat for an actor so young in their career and I expect we will see more from Curran in the future.
Supporting cast members are all well placed but it is easily Cliff Curtis (Fear The Walking Dead) who stands out from the crowd. Billy is an excellent supporting character and Curtis bring a lot to the small number of scenes in which he appears. A particular moment as Billy and Dan search for a young boy’s body is one of the most impactful in the film thanks to his performance.
Composers The Newton Brothers are able to recreate some of the soundscape of Kubrick’s original whilst finding enough ground to create their own unique entity for Doctor Sleep. As always I need to go back and listen to the isolated score in but in the context of watching the film the music was able to building the dramatic tension that a psychological thriller like this needs to be successful.
Much like it’s predecessor Doctor Sleep does not rely on jump scares. There are plenty of psychologically harrowing moments to put fear into the audience. The dramatic tension is palpable throughout and only grows as the third act draws near. It’s testament to strong writing from Flanagan and should stand out as a highlight of his career to date.
Doctor Sleep does veer away from the source material at times, mainly to tread the line between the visual universe of Kubrick’s original. The ending to this film is quite different to the book but echoes it from an emotional context. It’s satisfying and oddly hopeful so I would like to think fans, like I, will be able to enjoy the third act despite those changes.
Doctor Sleep is truly unique piece of film, created with a strong reverence for both Kubrick and King it honors but never imitates either one. Instead this is director Mike Flanagan being given the keys to a sandbox he was born to play in.
Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor (“Star Wars: Episodes I, II & III,” “T2 Trainspotting”) as Dan Torrance, Rebecca Ferguson (the “Mission: Impossible” films, “The Greatest Showman”) as Rose the Hat, and Kyliegh Curran, in her major feature film debut, as Abra. The main ensemble cast also includes Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe and Cliff Curtis.