Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Premise: An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and a sequel to 1980’s The Shining. Decades after the events at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) and a teenage girl (Kyliegh Curran) evade a group of drifters who hunt and consume children with psychic abilities.
What Works: Doctor Sleep is a smart horror film. Stephen King’s stories are typically about the struggle between good and evil with those two sides clearly defined. That is certainly the case here but Doctor Sleep goes a step further as an examination of what it means to be good or evil and how people struggle with legacies of trauma. Doctor Sleep has some difficult material in it and one scene is especially horrific—so much so that it is surprising to see this sequence in a mainstream film—but this movie is never gratuitous. The horror serves a narrative and thematic point. The themes of Doctor Sleep are paired with characters who are interesting and complex. Danny Torrance, played by Ewan McGregor, has had a tough life since the events of The Shining and he struggles with alcoholism and the burden of his gifts. The film has a considered take on the impact of trauma and the story sets Danny on a path to make sense of his pain and put it to some constructive use. Abra Stone, played by Kyliegh Curran, is a teenage girl who discovers her own psychic powers and Abra learns to take responsibility for her power. Danny and Abra contrast with Rose The Hat, the leader of a gang who torture and murder psychics in order to consume their gifts. Rose is played by Rebecca Ferguson and she is a malevolent presence, quite possibly the most frightening villain to come out of any Stephen King adaptation. Doctor Sleep also impresses in the way it manages to be an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel and a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. The 1980 film diverged greatly from the source material (making Kubrick’s picture an ongoing source of annoyance to King). Doctor Sleep accepts Kubrick’s film as it is and doesn’t try to retcon it; instead, the filmmakers port elements from King’s The Shining novel into Doctor Sleep and achieve a nearly perfect reconciliation of the two stories that deepens the links between the films.
What Doesn’t: Doctor Sleep has two slight flaws. First, some of the villains are dispatched very quickly. Given the powers exhibited by the band of killers, many of them are done away with very easily and conventionally. Also, several people are killed in circumstances that would certainly draw the attention of law enforcement. Late in the story, the adult Danny travels across the country with the teenage Abra but given everything that has happened the girl’s mother would probably come after her or law enforcement would issue an Amber alert that would complicate Danny and Abra’s travels. It’s a minor credibility issue in what is otherwise a solid and intelligent film.
Bottom Line: Doctor Sleep is one of the best Stephen King adaptations. The film is frightening as well as smart and it provides the thrills associated with a horror film while also including complex characters and thoughtful ideas.
Episode: #777 (November 24, 2019)