Doctor Sleep Review

Doctor Sleep (2019) Movie Review

Director: Mike Flanagan
Screenwriter: Mike Flanagan
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran

Following up one of the most revered horror movies of all time is no easy task, especially when that movie was also directed by one of the greatest directors ever. It’s like having The Beatles as your opening act, so you have to give Mike Flanagan points for even attempting this mammoth task. And then you have to give him even more points because he actually pulls it off; giving us a sequel that can sit proudly on anyone’s shelf next to its 1980 predecessor.

The film starts several weeks after what happened at The Overlook. Rather than de-ageing the characters and making them look like their faces are wrapped in digital cellophane, the parts of Wendy and Danny are recast for these scenes, and special mention must go to Alex Essoe for getting Shelly Duvall’s voice down to a tee. She may not look exactly the same, but in a blind test you’d be hard-pressed to tell them apart by their voices. Dick Halloran is also back, this time played by Carl Lumbly, who slips into Scatman Crothers’s blazer like it was made for him.

The story sticks very closely to Stephen King’s novel. The opening scene sets the dark tone that the film will take when a child is killed by the True Knot – a group of nomads who travel the highways of America searching for children who ‘shine’ and then devour their psychic powers in order to live hugely extended lives.

When we first meet grown-up Danny – now Dan – he’s a mess. The sins of the father have transferred onto the son and he’s diving to the bottom of a bottle and wasting his life away drifting from town to town. But then he meets some kind souls in a small town and gets a job, gets into AA and gets his life back on track.

We then jump ahead eight years. A young girl called Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) while using her ‘shine’ grabs the attention of the True Knot. They see in her enough power to sustain their group for years, but she’s also come to the attention of Dan, so it’s up to him to try to protect her as the True Knot close in.

I have to admit when I read the book I didn’t see the cinematic potential, but Flanagan pulls some really amazing, exciting and scary scenes out of the bag and delivers a film that doesn’t rush to get where it’s going, but never bores you either. I suppose he learned how to sustain tension over a long period while making the excellent Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House – for my money, one of the best TV shows of recent years.

There are a lot of nods to The Shining but they never just feel like fan service. These stories are intertwined and the structure of this story is nothing like Kubrick’s film. Flanagan hasn’t just tried to redo what the 1980 film did; he’s taken the elements he needs from it but very firmly crafted his own narrative with its own look and feel.

The film ends up back at the now-abandoned Overlook Hotel so there are a lot of familiar locations and faces popping up and saying: ‘Hello, Danny.’ McGregor plays this brilliantly; you really get a sense of his fear going back into the lion’s den when it’s the last thing he wants to do. The creepy feeling as he walks through the ruins of his father’s final rampage made the hairs on my arms stand up.

I only have a couple of minor gripes. Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) is from Northern Ireland (like me!) in the book and I was looking forward to hearing my local accent in this movie, but it isn’t there. I think she’s doing some sort of Irish accent in the opening scene, but it seems to get forgotten after that.

The other thing is the recasting of Jack. As I’ve said, I enjoyed most of the recastings, but Jack Nicholson’s performance in The Shining isn’t something you should try to duplicate – and they don’t. He isn’t the over-the-top crazed Jack we remember, and frankly the conversation he has with Ewan McGregor could easily be lifted from the film and not do any damage, so why they have this exchange which stops the film dead for a few minutes, is beyond me. It’s exposition we don’t need.

I enjoyed this film immensely. It’s one of the better King adaptations and a film I will undoubtedly rewatch many times. It succeeds on its own terms and doesn’t rely on terrible CGI for scares, nor does it hold back on the violence just to reach the under 12 demographic. This is horror how it’s supposed to be. By not trying to be Kubrick, Flanagan has delivered an inventive, emotionally engaging film that leads you into a maze of redrum and supernatural scares, and then shows you the way out.

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