Director: Mike Flanagan
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood
Run Time: 152 mins
Ever since it was greenlit, Doctor Sleep sounded like a big risk. Not only does it have to function as a sequel to the classic Stanley Kubrick film adaptation of The Shining but it also has to function as a Stephen King adaptation and as a sequel to his novel. King’s novel itself is also a drastic departure tonally from The Shining. Director Mike Flanagan is a safe bet and has proved himself multiple times in the genre with films such as Oculus, Hush and he even managed to make a good sequel to the critically panned Ouija. Flanagan has already found success adapting King’s work as he directed Gerald’s Game a couple of years ago which received positive reviews, although I had some major problems with it. The cast seems like a gamble too with leading actor Ewan McGregor not seeming like a match for this material, a polar opposite to Jack Nicholson’s bravura performance as Jack Torrance. Rebecca Ferguson has also had a very spotty career, with some terrible performances in films such as The Girl On The Train and The Greatest Showman.
To my dismay and against all the odds stacking against it, Doctor Sleep is an enthralling sequel to The Shining that is refreshingly different from its predecessor but still has some spiritual connections. It is frequently mesmerising and has a fascinating narrative at its core. The characters are well-developed and Flanagan establishes some emotional narrative stakes. Of course, there does not need to be some connection to what has come before it and the third act returns to The Overlook Hotel. The film does dip a little into fan service here but not enough to derail the entire film. But it is the first 2 hours are so that are really, really strong. Speaking of the 152 minute run time, this is a film that earns its length. There are so many standout scenes here and Flanagan does an excellent job of conjuring dread. A scene with Rebecca Ferguson astral-projecting mid-way through is just stunning and a shootout at the end of the second act are the highlights.
The performances are great and Ewan McGregor makes for a strong lead – this may be one of his best performances. McGregor plays Danny Torrance, who we saw as a child in The Shining and he is now a grown-up alcholic and has never managed to rid the fear that has haunted him throughout his life. Even Rebecca Ferguson does a good job here as Rose The Hat, who is the leader of a nomadic tribe who thrive on hunting psyhic children and draining them of their powers. Kyleigh Curran is great as a young girl who also shares Danny’s gift and she is suitably well-developed through the narrative. Jacob Tremblay also impresses in a small role that he performs with ease.
The film is visually astute as well. Michael Fimognari’s photography is fluid and illustruous and there are many standout shots. He manages to capture the chilly atmosphere that haunts Ewan McGregor’s character and manages to stay true to Kubrick in the composition of the shots in the third act. The score by The Newton Brothers is also good, especially a repeated motif of a heart beating throughout the run time that adds to the intensity.
Overall, Doctor Sleep is a surprisingly great sequel that holds it own with Kubrick’s original. Throughout much of the film, I was enamored by it and even though it does begin to dip into fan service in its final sequence, it is a logical conclusion. Doctor Sleep is a triumph and one of the best films of the year.