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‘Doctor Sleep’ (review)

Produced by Trevor Macy, Jon Berg
Screenplay by Mike Flanagan
Based on Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly,
Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas

 

While The Shining is widely regarded as one of the greatest and most influential horror films of all time, Stephen King infamously loathes Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of his book due to the many alterations Kubrick made to the story.

As much as King’s frustration is understandable as the book is among his best work, Kubrick’s reimagining of King’s novel is nonetheless an unnerving masterpiece in its own right.

With Doctor Sleep, the filmmakers have found an expert middle ground between penmanship and cinema.

While some alterations to the original story have been made in order to accommodate the film also working as a direct sequel to Kubrick’s 1980 classic, the overarching narrative of Doctor Sleep remains a largely satisfying adaptation of the source material.

Like the book, the film focuses on the three narratives of Dan Torrance, Abra Stone and Rose the Hat individually before their arcs inevitably merge and intertwine.

Ewan McGregor is at his most sympathetic as an adult Dan Torrance who stumbles his way through life, the shadow of his drunken, abusive father always looming over him as he numbs his shining ability with alcohol and questionable life choices. Ever likable, McGregor makes Dan’s journey an engaging one, just as he serves as a grounded anchor for the two powerful women at the forefront of the film.

Outshining Dan’s psychic abilities is the young protagonist Abra Stone, whom Kyleigh Curran portrays with a commanding presence seldom seen in such young talent. This not only makes the young star immensely watchable as she holds her own against seasoned stars McGregor and Ferguson in the narrative at hand, it also easily places Curran as one of the most memorable adolescent performances in recent years.

The true star, however, is Rebecca Ferguson, who imbues the character of Rose the Hat with all the menacing magnetism that made her such a memorable villain in the book, ensuring that the character is competently transferred from page to screen as one of the most nuanced villains to grace the big screen in recent memory.

Taking its time to flesh out its characters, the audience is presented with a slow-burning narrative unusual for contemporary horror cinema. As such, those who prefer a 90 minute cookie cutter horror with a myriad of jump scares may feel alienated by Doctor Sleep, but those who are familiar with director Mike Flanagan’s resume as a writer, director and editor will find that this film is perfectly in keeping with his previous work.

From the script competently marrying the 2013 novel with the 1980 film to the subtlety of the direction and the editing keeping the pacing of the 2.5 hour runtime moving along smoothly, the filmmaker responsible for titles such as the series The Haunting of Hill House and the adaption of King’s Gerald’s Game was undoubtedly the right man to take on Doctor Sleep.

Considering nostalgia currently being big business, it would be all to easy for Doctor Sleep to rely on how iconic the imagery of its predecessor is and simply milk that to draw the crowds in. Thankfully, the filmmakers have avoided this faux pas, and while there are plenty of Easter eggs throughout the film, they add texture instead of distracting from story, and the story truly is the heart of the film.

Rest assured, however, that the audience is not cheated from revisiting one of the most haunting locations ever committed to celluloid, but it is cleverly saved for the final act.

Similar to how Wendy, young Danny and Dick Hallorann are portrayed by actors doing their best to capture the mannerisms of the original performers, the recasting of the many ghosts of the Overlook Hotel works well as the focus has not been on carbon copy lookalikes, but rather capturing the essence of what the original performances embodied.

In terms of the physical setting, however, the level of detail is almost chilling, as the meticulous recreation of the Overlook Hotel and its interiors is so eerily immaculate that you at times half expect Duvall or Nicholson to have just walked out of frame.

In addition to the setting, another unsettling aspect of the 1980 film was the score, and the filmmakers behind the sequel have clearly recognized this. With a droning heartbeat at its core, the eccentricity and intensity of the score of the original film increased as the Overlook Hotel awoke and made Jack Torrance descend into murderous madness. Similarly, the score of the sequel plucks at your heartstrings in the most deliberately unnerving ways possible, but thanks to the other filmmaking components, the choice of score feels clever instead of contrived.

Trying to follow in Kubrick’s footsteps is an ungrateful task at best, but thanks to Flanagan’s filmmaking style, Doctor Sleep is not only an atmospheric and engaging horror film in its own right, it is also a respectful homage to its predecessor. Similarly, much like King’s books The Shining and Doctor Sleep are very different in their structure and how the ability to shine is portrayed and how it drives the narrative, this evolution in the source material works in the favor of the filmmakers behind the sequel, as it has given them plenty of leeway to make Doctor Sleep something very different to The Shining, and other cinematic masterpieces would be so lucky to get a follow-up of this caliber.

Verdict: 8 out 10.

 

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