Doctor Sleep Is Intriguing, Horrific and Kinda Disappointing (Movie Review)

The great Stephen King revival continues with a follow-up to one of his most acclaimed works, The Shining. While Stanley Kubrick’s cinematic adaptation is famously hated by King, nearly forty years later, Doctor Sleep arrives based on King’s sequel book of the same name, with influence from Kubrick’s film as well. This time, the director behind the nightmares is horror filmmaker Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) who’s already made a strong King feature, Gerald’s Game. Can this vehicle for Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson leave a mark where Danny’s big wheel had once trodden before?

A genuinely creepy opening introduces us to Rose the Hat (Ferguson), a Mad Hatter of sorts with a gift for sucking the life essence out of individuals with the power to “shine.” A simple title card tells us it’s 1980, the same year as the Jack Nicholson classic. But this is not Colorado or the Overlook Hotel. In fact, this is the furthest from it. Instead of snow, Rose is sitting by a pretty lake in the summer. Everything glows. Everything is warm. Flowers are in bloom. And yet, between Rose and a girl, we’ll call Violet, death is just as imminent. It’s a killer of a tone-setter.

Or so you would think. After that, we’re then back with Danny Torrance (now played as a youth by Roger Dale Floyd ) and his mom. They escaped the terror of Jack and that hotel, but evil spirits are still attracted to Danny. It’s quickly established that Danny can lock these demons away, but the shining will take its toll. We then jump to the present where adult Danny (McGregor) has been keeping these demons out of his head with liquor, and by extension, ruining his life.

At 150 minutes, Doctor Sleep has a lot of stories to tell, but it boils down to two. The best and more original is the focus on Rose the Hat, who has built a family with other soul suckers. They live like modern gypsies going from town to town, feeding off children that shine, including an unlucky little leaguer played by a certain good boy.

Ferguson plays Rose as utterly magnetic and savage. She’s not at all like Ilsa Faust from the Mission: Impossible films. Faust is mysterious, yet you want to trust her. Rose the Hat is never subtle about wanting to take everything and every resource from an individual. Yet, as much as she’s not to be trusted, the story works best when focused on her and her ragtag group. An early scene where she recruits a young blonde teen (Emily Alyn Lind) who lures pervy old men to ruin them plays like a fun con game. You want everyone to join Rose’s team, and you hope she never comes for you.

Flanagan, as a writer/director, has been marrying family dysfunction with horror for years. This balance of terror among people we either care about or, in the case of Rose’s crew, at least find fascinating, is his gift as a filmmaker. He supplies a lot of heart to a genre that far too often abandons such sentiment.

The other side of the story features Danny aiding a young teen, Abra (a terrific Kyliegh Curran), with her abilities. While Danny and Abra make for a solid “Team Shining,” this is the weaker half of the film. However, the fault is not with any of the actors. McGregor and the whole cast are strong. There’s even a fun performance by a cat who resides at a hospice. #TeamDeathCat.

The problem is how the Danny narrative keeps folding back to the original Kubrick film for guidance or inspiration. We see the beautifully crafted Overlook, and the heavy bass of the score kicks in. Room 237, the carpet pattern, the twins, all of it. It’s all spot on and yet just can’t invade the mind the way the original film could. Worse still, Danny’s parents, who were unforgettably played Jack Nicholson and Shelly Duvall, have been recast. I’m not asking for more de-aging, but did we even need to revisit these characters again?

There’s an incredibly affecting 100 minute Stephen King film here, but it’s trapped at the Overlook, just wanting to leave the past behind.

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