Writer/Director Mike Flanagan revisits the Overlook Hotel with his adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor as one of horror’s most iconic characters, Danny Torrence. The story follows Danny as he grows from a child recovering from the trauma he suffered at the hands of his father and the spirits of the Overlook hotel to an alcoholic adult who hits rock bottom and comes to find himself lost and then found in recovery.
Danny earns the nickname “Doctor Sleep” as an orderly at a hospice in New Hampshire where he uses his psychic abilities to help the residents make it through the last moments of their lives. Danny finds a new purpose when Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young teenage girl who also shines reaches out to him when she discovers a group called the The True Knot has been killing and feeding on the essence of young children who shine like she and Danny.
Rebecca Ferguson stars as Rose the Hat, one of the leaders of The True Knot. When she discovers Abra, she must have her to feed on, and chases her across the country like Ahab chased his white whale. Eventually our protagonists come face to face with Rose and go head to head in a psychic showdown at the Overlook Hotel.
Ewan McGregor is extraordinary giving a realistic portrayal of a man struggling with addiction and past trauma. We can see the mileage on his face as a man having spent a lifetime trying to supress what makes him special to fit in with everyone else. There are two key scenes in which he talks about his relationship with his father. The first is in an AA meeting, and the second comes in the third act of the film. The scenes reflect how Danny’s come to recovery, and we see a man confront his demons headon. These are powerful moments for McGregor where we see the heart of the character revealed.
Kyliegh Curran shines (pardon the pun) as Abra. She has screen presence for days and holds her own against her more seasoned castmates. While Abra can be stoic and wise beyond her years, Curran brings a humanity to the character that may not otherwise be there in the hands of a lesser actor.
Ferguson first burst onto the scene playing opposite Tom Cruise in Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation proving she was a force to be reckoned with. She is incredibly compelling as Rose The Hat and once on screen one can scarcely take their eyes off her. More than just an antagonist, she and the other members of The True Knot bring a family dynamic to characters who could otherwise be monsters. Yes they are soul-sucking vampires who feed on children, but they care about each other, and their bond is compelling. Her relationship with Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) is a particularly loving relationship. We can see that they genuinely care for one another even during the horrific act of murdering a child. The layers and nuance in the direction and performances of the cult of the True Knot add weight and depth to what would otherwise seem like generic evil beings.
From one look at Mike Flanigan’s recreation of some of the scenes and characters from Stanley Kubrick’s film of The Shining, it’s easy to see his love and reverence for the material. With Doctor Sleep he manages to create an effective adaptation of both King’s book of The Shining, and the Doctor Sleep novel as well as a love letter to Kubrick film which is no small feat considering there are elements in Kubrick’s film that are drastically different from the novel. It’s a fine tightrope to walk, and Flanigan does so masterfully.
If you’re a fan of the Kubrick film, there’s a lot for you here. Scenes are characters that are recreated give us a different look at the Overlook Hotel and its inhabitants. We get to walk down familiar hallways and see familiar faces that despite being gruesome, can give fans the feeling they once had seeing the 1980 film. Watch the director’s cut for more of this material. One scene which was left out of the theatrical cut is so jaw-droppingly accurate in its recreation of a room in the hotel, you’ll think they shot it on the same set.
There are horrific elements here, but make no mistake this is film is very reserved. It doesn’t rely on startling jump-scares. It’s a character-driven drama about people dealing with the supernatural. The horror is realistic and the imagery disturbing. One scene in particular in which the True Knot feasts on a child victim is shockingly real and terrifying, but the horror is grounded in reality and that realism makes it all the more horrible.
The director’s cut of the film is 30 minutes longer than the theatrical cut with material that was put back into scenes. The additional material lets the film breathe a bit and helps to flesh out the characters. The footage extracted from the theatrical cut isn’t vital to the story by any means, but it does enhance the experience of the film. Flanigan who serves as editor as well has given us two versions of his film that are of equal quality. The pacing of the theatrical cut is much tighter, but the director’s cut feels more fulfilling.
If you’ve always wondered what it would be like to go back to the Overlook, or if you’ve ever thought “I wonder what happened to that little kid from The Shining,” I highly recommend this film. It does justice to the film you love as well as to King’s original novel.