DOCTOR SLEEP

Some stories just don’t need sequels… Scratch that. Most stories just don’t need sequels. The entire point of someone telling a story is that it has an ending. A point it was trying to make. We’re not supposed to follow characters for their whole lives, but just a glimpse of it. It’s not a story about their life, but a specific part of it and the effect it had overall. It doesn’t mean all sequels are bad, but for the most part, they are pointless, especially 40 years down the road and with a different cast and crew. Is that really a bad thing, though? 

Doctor Sleep follows an evil cult known as the True Knot, a group of quasi-immortal beings who feed on the psychic powers, or “shine”, of psychic children. Led by the top hat wearing Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), they find their next target, teenage girl Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with shining abilities like no other. This ends up bringing Overlook Hotel survivor and fellow shiner Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) out from seclusion and he and Abra work together to defeat Rose and her cult. 

Sequels that come out more than a decade later aren’t really anything new, but I don’t think anybody really expected, nor wanted, a sequel to The Shining. The only reason this film exists is because Stephen King happened to write a sequel decades later and when Warner Bros. saw the $$$ after It came out, an adaptation was a no brainer. Where the big intrigue lied was how the sequel would handle both the novel and film source material. General film and horror fans consider The Shining to be a masterpiece in its genre, but Stephen King fans and the author himself hated it due to the artistic liberties taken. The Doctor Sleep novel followed what happened in The Shining novel, but not the movie, which made some major changes. Thus, the Doctor Sleep movie existed in this weird limbo where it has to be both an adaptation of Doctor Sleep and a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Unfortunately, Kubrick passed away in 1999 and honestly would have been too old to direct it today anyway, so of course, somebody else has to take the reins. It’s a probably a job that nobody wants, because how can you live up to one of the greatest horror films of all time, especially when it’s 40 years later and the film landscape has changed so drastically? Well, acclaimed horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan felt confident enough to take up the task and I really couldn’t have thought of a better choice. He’s definitely one of the best horror filmmakers working today, with stories that always have some thematic depth and characterization, and a terrific grasp on atmosphere and tone. He can do both straight horror and even campy horror, and boy, does this movie get a bit campy, but in a good way! It’s odd to say it’s a positive, especially when The Shining is 100% humorless and isn’t fun to watch in the slightest, but as silly as some of the things get here, I never really had a problem with it. Even then, it’s still a little weird that a sequel to The Shining consists of a bunch of people who are basically vampires sucking the souls out of children. Sure, it makes sense in the context of the movie, but it’s still odd to think that all of this cheesy soul stealing stuff was going on in the background of the original film. Obviously, this is the direction King chose to take with the universe, so Flanagan is kind of tied to doing it. It’s not really as much of a horror film as it is a dark fantasy. The content and intent is different, even feeling kind of like a comic book movie at times, with its supervillains and worldbuilding. 

While it’s silly in concept, the True Knot cult is legitimately threatening and it’s all thanks to Rebecca Ferguson’s outstanding performance as their leader, Rose the Hat. She’s terrifying, mystifying, and charming all at the same time and she makes every scene she’s in. She definitely revels in the silliness of the character, which is a nice contrast to Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, and Cliff Curtis’ more grounded performances. McGregor is perfect as the adult Danny. It’s a very understated performance where there’s a lot of subtlety in his facial expressions and body language. You can really feel the trauma he’s experienced over the last 40 years and how he’s ran from all of it, finally having to confront it. No matter what, the Overlook Hotel just won’t let him go. While the third act when he returns felt a bit too long, it was a satisfying emotional journey to witness. The genre may somewhat be different, but thematically, it feels just as rich as The Shining, just saying different things. He works very well off of Curran, too, who more than holds her own against the veteran McGregor, and this is only her second film! The runtime is 151 minutes, and aside from the third act, I never felt a bit of that runtime, totally engrossed with these characters and their performances. 

While Doctor Sleep is totally different than The Shining in the story department, Flanagan still did quite an impressive job at aestethically making this feel like a sequel to The Shining. There’s a lot of symmetrical, wide framing to show off the locations, while also having some tracking shots and slow zooms. There are of course some modern filmmaking techniques and Flanagan isn’t anywhere near the level of Kubrick (which isn’t a slight against him. I’m sure he thinks so too.), so there are some differences, but overall, the look, sound, and feel is very reminiscent of the original film. While the idea and plotting are odd, this feels like a sequel that’s consistent with the original, which is pretty amazing considering the time gap and a completely different filmmaker continuing the story. There are some scenes in the beginning that take place in 1980, which of course means recasting for people like Shelley Duvall and Scatman Cruthers. In the age of CGI de-aging and recreating dead people, it was refreshing to have a movie where the characters are just recast. They’re recast very well, too, especially Alex Essoe as Wendy Torrance. Duvall has such a distinct look, so Essoe doesn’t look exactly like her, but she nails the mannerisms and personality of the character. While I did appreciate the use of classic tricks to bring back characters, since the characters they’re portraying are so iconic, there was always something a little bit off with them. 

Mike Flanagan had some pretty massive shoes to fill with Doctor Sleep and if I were to say The Shining is a size 10 (a 10/10 rating), then Doctor Sleep is a size 8.5. Perhaps it’s because I went in with little to no expectations for this, but I was surprised to have a sequel to The Shining that was this good. It’s not as horror focused as its predecessor, but as far as performances, characterization, themes, and aesthetic go, you have a very worthy successful that would make for a great double feature. I’ve always considered The Shining to be a “classy” horror film and while it isn’t as classy, Doctor Sleep shows that the horror-dark fantasy-whatever genre can be taken just as seriously as anything else. 

8.5/10

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