“An intriguing sequel that builds upon its predecessor in fun and interesting ways.“
The Shining (1980) has cemented itself as arguably the greatest horror film of all time, despite its original lacklustre box office: just check every “Top 10 Horror Films” list online and people shouting “Here’s Johnny!” out of context. Stanley Kubrick’s take on Stephen King’s classic novel has, over time, seeped into our collective consciousness as a slow burning but unnerving tale of psychic terror.
Here we are with Mike Flanagan (creator of the brilliant The Haunting of Hill House series) adapting a sequel built on the foundations of two prolific storytellers and their masterpieces. Flanagan somehow pays homage to both iterations of The Shining (ignoring that mini-series) whilst making his own mark on the continued story of Danny Torrance.
Since the horrific events at the Overlook Hotel, we find an alcoholic Danny (Ewan McGregor) at his lowest point after a particular one-night stand, and years of using alcoholism to bury his past trauma. He moves to a small town, rehabilitates with the help of an AA sponsor and eventually works in a hospice where the most moving scenes of the film play out. Danny uses his shining powers to aid dying patients and Flanagan keeps these moments technically simple to allow the writing and performances to show his emotional side. It’s clear from the start that while there are certainly scares to be had throughout the film, it’s the characters and their emotional journeys that Flanagan wants to focus on.
Whilst Danny tries to deal with his past, we’re introduced to a cult known as the True Knot and their leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Ferguson is clearly the highlight of this film as a truly memorable villain. On the surface she is alluring and welcoming, but you sense there is something menacing underneath, which there definitely is as the True Knot hunt down those who also have the shining. Showcased in the film’s most horrific scene, Flanagan doesn’t hold back from showing us the lengths Rose will go to gain power. Also in the mix is Abra (Kyliegh Curran), whose incredibly strong powers means she can psychically communicate with Danny but at the expense of drawing attention from Rose and her cult. Curran is brilliant in her debut role, playing Abra as a young but very capable lady; she needs Danny’s help for sure but very often takes control of decisions and situations. Abra is also one hell of a badass in the film’s set-pieces. With two incredible female actors playing full realised characters, it is actually McGregor as the titular character who is the least memorable. He is absolutely fine as the traumatised Danny trying to overcome his past but, other than that, there isn’t that much depth to the character.
Doctor Sleep peaks in the second act when the characters start interacting with each other in literal mind games. Flanagan has a blast testing out the extent of everyone’s powers as they attempt to get inside each other’s heads. The twists and turns of who is currently in control within each scene constantly raises the stakes and makes the story unpredictable. Flanagan’s direction also keeps things engaging as he really leans into the fantastical and sometimes surreal nature of the mind games through curious camerawork and captivating sound design.
The third act is where the film gets a little rocky, however. Ingrained in the final showdown is a nostalgic trip back to Kubrick’s film that at times feels like a respectful homage that cleverly plays into Danny’s character arc, but at other times the references and callbacks are too on-the-nose. In the end, though, Flanagan does manage to finish telling his story about Danny and overcoming trauma.
The film is at its best when Flanagan steers away from the influence of both Kubrick and King, proving he is a strong filmmaker and storyteller. Armed with a great cast to help pay homage to as well as separate itself from Kubrick’s masterpiece, Doctor Sleep is worth staying awake for.
Dir: Mike Flanagan
Prod: Jon Berg, Akiva Goldsman, Stephan King, Roy Lee, D. Scott Lumpkin, Trevor Macy, Kevin McCormack, Philip Waley.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alan Lind.
Available: In cinemas