REVIEW: “Doctor Sleep” (2019)

SLEEP poster

I’ve never read Stephen King’s 1977 bestseller “The Shining” but I’m keenly aware of his displeasure with Stanley Kubrick’s celebrated movie adaptation. King’s dissatisfaction manifested itself through some instances of compelling criticism but also plenty of sour grapes. King even went as far as to release his own adaptation of his novel, an ABC mini-series, which sticks closer to his vision but doesn’t have near the following as Kubrick’s film.

In 2013 King penned “Doctor Sleep”, yet another bestseller and a sequel to “The Shining”. Warner Brothers instantly looked into bringing it to the big screen. Now six years later enter Mike Flanagan – writer, director, editor, and the brave soul willing to tackle such an audacious undertaking. Flanagan sets out to make a film that connects both King and Kubrick’s version of “The Shining” while continuing their story. It’s exciting to see that he is up to the task.

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“Doctor Sleep” opens only a few years after the traumatizing events of the first film. Young Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother Wendy have relocated to Florida but he is still haunted by specters from The Overlook Hotel including the woman rotting away in Room 237 (surely you remember her). Through his telepathic powers that come with having ‘the Shine’, Danny is contacted by the Outlook’s former head chef Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) who teaches him how fend off the evil spirits.

That small opening does a good job of bringing us back to and planting our feet in King and Kubrick’s world. It immediately taps into the tone that Kubrick’s film developed and managed so well while also establishing the strong supernatural angle which was important to King and was one of his big points of criticism with Kubrick’s version of his story.

Jump ahead 31 years later. Danny (a perfectly cast Ewan McGregor), or Dan now, is still wrestling with his abilities and his attempts to suppress them has led to a life of self-destruction and alcoholism. Essentially homeless and with his life in shambles, Dan hops a bus and eventually gets off at a small New Hampshire town where a sympathetic local (Cliff Curtis) helps him get his feet on the ground. He finds a good job, joins an AA group, and even discovers a quiet but thoughtful use for his abilities.

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So far so good, but now we get to the film’s ace in the hole – Rebecca Ferguson. The English-Swedish actress steals the show playing Rose, the leader of a gypsy-like vampiric cult called the True Knot. She and her supernatural sect hunt down and literally feed on the ‘shine’ of gifted children. But they’re starving which makes them even more desperate and more dangerous.

Ferguson owns every scene she’s in and imbues her character with a seductive charm but also a blood-curdling menace. Flanagan wisely gives her plenty of meaty scenes that help develop her and her group as a truly terrifying (and mesmerizing) threat. Many of the movie’s most memorable moments feature Rose with her icy confidence and chilling callousness. She’s a great character brought to life through a great performance.

Dan crosses telepathic paths with a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) whose ‘shine’ is off the charts. Rose senses Abra’s immense power which puts the child’s life in immediate danger. Dan is then faced with a dilemma. If he doesn’t get involved he’ll be able to protect the good and stable life he finally has going for himself. But of course Abra will probably die. If he helps her, he runs the risk of losing everything and his own ‘shine’ will almost certainly be exposed. But in doing so he could potentially save her life. Decisions.

DOCTOR SLEEP

I really like “The Shining” despite not quite seeing it as the horror movie masterpiece many do. Still, there is a fascinating pull towards the story and characters that I can’t deny. “Doctor Sleep” builds on that in a incredibly satisfying way. Aside from Flanagan’s impressive balancing act in bringing together King and Kubrick’s visions, I love the attention that he gives to the people on screen. The movie has a hefty running time but it’s in large part due to the story never taking shortcuts and offering up plenty of rich character details.

It’s also refreshing to see a horror film give the fullness of its genre focus to mood and tone instead of jump scares which have become commonplace. In fact “Doctor Sleep” seems to be pushing back on what you could call the horror movie norms of our day. It feels unique and plays out differently than what we’ve become accustomed to. In a nutshell, it’s a very mature slice of horror that is heavily focused on its characters and trusts in its ability to create frights and tension without resorting to gimmicks. I know it really worked for me.

VERDICT – 4.5 STARS

4-5-stars

39 thoughts on “REVIEW: “Doctor Sleep” (2019)

  1. Well I never saw The Shining ( husband only found out recently and is intent on us doing it for our movie night soon 😳) so this might get done too. Though I am not keen on Ferguson as you know, Ewan Macgregor is great so he’ll make up for that I suspect.

    • Can I just throw this out again about Ferguson…Shame on you!” 🤣

      I’ll be really interested in hearing your thoughts on “The Shining”. In many ways (and I know some will call this blasphemous), I think “Doctor Sleep” is better.

      • In truth I’m probably being unfair on the Ferguson, am sure she’s a great actress, maybe I just haven’t liked the characters she has played. I’ll let you know how I get on with the Shining!

  2. I’m unsure about this film though I’ll check it out when it comes on TV hopefully for next year’s horror marathon. I’m intrigued in what they did in relation to Kubrick’s film.

    • As you can tell I loved it. Such a fresh slice of horror and a great attention to character. And man, Rebecca Ferguson is stellar. One of my favorite supporting performances of the year.

  3. I had this on my radar for a while. Hoping to see it this week but really encouraged by your review. I have always been a huge King of his early work. The first novel I read was Salem’s Lot and was hooked till Pet Sematary but felt his work didn’t interest much after till of late and Doctor Sleep was a good book.
    I was not a huge fan of Kubrick and felt that he gutted much of the book by downplaying the supernatural elements. Kubrick, in my opinion, overtook King’s story and made his own and in his style. Although I do appreciate it more now, I don’t hold it as a classic. But the film score is amazing and gives me chills. Glad to read that the new movie does a good job of connecting the movie and the books well.
    Ferguson is amazing, isn’t she? I have yet to see anything she is in where she doesn’t shine.
    I’m surprised at the low box office. King is a hot commodity it seems but perhaps Halloween would have been the better release date and a better ad campaign connecting the original to this one. I willet you know what I think upon seeing it.

    • Wait till you see Ferguson in this. She kills it. Such a different role than anything she has done but she has no problems whatsoever.

      The whole movie was a big surprise for me. Never expected to put so much time into its characters and storytelling. The running time has been an issue for some, but I was wrapped up in it all.

  4. Good sequel. Loved the entire third act. Could’ve been edited down to a two hour movie (a bit slow paced in the beginning), but still a solid sequel.

    • One the biggest surprises for me of the year. Honestly I really liked the beginning because it felt like interesting and meaningful character development. I can see why it wouldn’t work for everyone though.

  5. I’m looking forward to seeing this. (in reference to my sub-comment to Alex above: I will be checking it out on Netflix because that’s where I first saw it and will most likely be still rewarded for my lack of haste in getting out to the theaters — so, put another tick in the positives column for streamed content.) You (I) don’t feel so much pressure to SEE IT NOW! AS ONE OF THE YEAR’S BEST REVIEWED MOVIES *said in an unnecessarily dramatic voice**

  6. After taking this in, a film adaptation I was keenly anticipating as you well know, it took me some time to digest Mike Flanagan’s rendering. Finally gave it the same rating as you, Keith. The changes made to the movie’s storyline, in some ways to right SK’s problem with Kubrick’s film and still give due to the wonderful, but rare, sequel by the novelist, took me some days come to terms with. Expecting the novel’s culmination that I truly prized, then finding a different but still meaningful one. Ultimately, this did that. And what a fine casting, too. Thinking about it right now, I need to re-watch this again before it leaves the theaters. Great review, my friend.

    • Thanks so much. I completely understand your hesitations. I wasn’t expecting to love this movie as much as I did. I’m really hoping (like you) to see it again before it leaves the theater.

  7. Glad you liked it this much! Ferguson is so amazing in every single role she has, it’s such a shame that movie is bombing in the box office. Flanagan is probably the best mainstream horror director working today, Aster and Eggers do the arthouse thing but he does the fun/creepy kind of horrors so well

    • You are so right. Ferguson has become a favorite of mine and it’s fun watching her literally own every scene she is in. She also has a really good range. This movie really shows that off.

  8. I loved this too mate. And I totally agree about how this was unique, there was no typical doors opening making a creaking sound or a pram or something moving bny itself. Everything was original, and I don’t think there was one jump scare. There was one that seemed like it but it was just the cut of the scene.

    And how they ‘eat’ the Shining… oh man, such a cool movie!!! I must see it again, though I don’t think its a horror movie at all, it was a fantastic, tense thriller for me. No film has ever ‘scared’ me, but IMO Ari Aster has just stolen the show when it comes to horror. He has reeeeeeally lifted the bar.

    I’m doing a post of Midsommar like I’ve done with the Joker, I always like to hear your thoughts. I’m posting part 3 now =D

      • No Antlers news. For me I could see Aster working to be crazy and shocking in that final act. And I didn’t think he knew when to stop during some of those scenes.

  9. Mmmm I dunno, might havbe to politely disagree 🙂 I thought cos there weren’t really many bloody or gory scenes, much like Hereditary but even more so, it makes the brutal scenes that much more effective. I can certainly see what you’re saying though, I’m sure there’s a bunch of symbolism to it. I noticed a bit, I’m gonna post my thoughts soon, I’ll probably msg ya on twitter cos like I’ve said, your opinion is one of few I trust 🙂

    And I think I told ya how much I loved Hostiles right? Bale can do anything

    • Oh I truly believe there’s symbolism somewhere. But from the weird pseudo-mating ritual (that never seemed to end) till the final shot I felt the movie was in overkill mode. But hey, I know a lot of people who really did go for it. I just have a weird relationship with that movie. HaHa.

      • My take on the ending is related to the obvious references to paganism. I can’t wait to hear what you think when I post my thoughts, I’d love to have a discussion on the final act , that’d be cool 🙂

        Gotta finish my last Joker post tho! Let me know of my take on the ending – it piggybacks off yours but has a twist to it 😉

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