Review: Doctor Sleep (2019)

Doctor Sleep (2019)

Directed by: Mike Flanagan | 151 minutes | drama, fantasy | Actors: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Selena Anduze, Robert Longstreet, Carel Struycken, Catherine Parker, James Flanagan, Met Clark, Zackary Momoh, Jocelin Donahue, Dakota Hickman, Carl Lumbly Henry Thomas, Bruce Greenwood, Sallye Hooks, Alex Essoe, Roger Dale Floyd, Jacob Tremblay

For those who have always wondered what happened to Danny and Wendy Torrance after the horrific events in ‘The Shining’ (Stephen King 1977 book, Stanley Kubrick 1980 film) Stephen King’s “Dr. Sleep” (2013) a welcome surprise. There was no doubt that this book would be made into a movie. It’s common knowledge that Stephen King isn’t happy with Kubrick’s film adaptation, but because the film is much more famous than the book, it was imperative that ‘Doctor Sleep’ be more in line with the beloved 80s classic than with the book or the novel. King self-produced miniseries from 1997.

Decades after Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) survived his father Jack’s assassination attempt, he is a broken man. Like Dad addicted to alcohol, without a steady job and home, the only bright spot is that he managed to control his psychic powers as a kid. On the run from himself and his demons, he ends up in Frazier, New Hampshire. With the help of the friendly Billy (Cliff Curtis), he lands a temporary job, a room and enlists in the AA. Thanks to the leader of the AA, Dan becomes an attendant at a hospice, assisting residents in their final moments before they die. He is nicknamed Doctor Sleep. Is his ‘shining’ still good for something?

Meanwhile, we also meet the members of the Knot, a group of people who also have psychic abilities, but no good intentions. They feed on the ‘steam’ that escapes when people with the same gift as Dan die. During one of these ritual massacres, their leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) notices that there is a spiritual witness and the hunt has begun.

That witness is Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a teenage girl who is indeed extremely psychic. She has had a connection with Dan Torrance for years – they communicate through written messages on the wall in Dan’s room – but now she really needs his help.

‘Doctor Sleep’ is heading for a solid four star rating in three quarters of the film. Continuously fascinating, atmospheric and unpredictable and very well acted. The flashbacks to Danny’s traumatic childhood at the Overlook Hotel, filmed with new actors, are strong, but even better are the scenes featuring the present-day Danny, either alongside Abra or Billy, and the storyline featuring Rose and her followers. At times, McGregor channels his movie father from the original, you can see Jack Nicholson’s madness in his eyes and that’s almost more creepy than the terrifying things the Knot does. For the structure of the story it can be defended that the climax takes place in the Overlook Hotel and the length of that part is also understandable, but it still goes wrong there. The scenes are too long and the viewer’s attention wanes. As good as the countless references to ‘The Shining’ are (by portraying it as a fan service you’re doing the makers too short) – and it also makes for really enjoyable scenes – the final showdown could have easily been cut short. Even then we would have believed it.

Where ‘The Shining’ painted a blood-curdling picture of how madness and paranoia can grip people, ‘Doctor Sleep’ is a very different kind of film; different plot lines are intertwined and it takes a while before it is clear how these characters relate to each other. More fantasy than horror, but certainly crawling under your skin. Too bad about that last part, but ‘Doctor Sleep’ is still highly recommended.

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