REVIEW: Doctor Sleep

Even the mere idea of a sequel to The Shining is a stress-inducing prospect - the steepest of all uphill battles any filmmaker could wish to take on, never mind author Stephen King who crafted the novel some 37 years after the original.
Step forward director Mike Flanagan. With support from King himself following a successful collaboration on Netflix’s psychological thriller Gerald’s Game, Flanagan has landed a major promotion - to helm the follow-up to one of King’s defining works. Even for a modern horror master like Flanagan, fresh off the astounding success of The Haunting of Hill House, crafting a worthwhile adaptation of Doctor Sleep seems more daunting than the halls of the Overlook Hotel itself.

Doctor Sleep returns to the story of Dan Torrance, once a young boy dealing with the literal demons thrust upon him in the Overlook Hotel, now a man struggling to cope with a severe alcohol addiction. After burying memories of his traumatic childhood and his telepathic “shine”, Dan strikes up a friendship with similarly gifted young girl Abra who is under threat from mysterious cult The True Knot.

It is Flanagan’s obsession with the aforementioned cult, led by Rebecca Ferguson’s terrifying Rose the Hat, that drives Doctor Sleep forward to its most impressive heights.

As the story follows The True Knot across America searching for children with a strong ‘shine’ to quite literally feast on, the movie delivers blood-curdling sequences, upping the brutality and gore seemingly daring the audience to keep watching. Often the perpetrator of said blood, Ferguson’s Rose the Hat completely steals the show with a chilling performance, playing a fine line between an exaggerated horror villain and threatening adversary. In fact Flanagan’s passionate interpretation of the cult stands apart from any other aspect of Doctor Sleep as the most compelling, unique and distinctly separate from its predecessor. Not only does The True Knot work as a way to expand the world of The Shining, it also serves as the gateway for Flanagan and his team to experiment with dynamic visuals. One scene in which Rose the Hat enters the mind of strong-willed Abra demonstrates a fearlessness to dive into intense supernatural elements that could feel out of place, but instead elevate the story to a level that is very rarely reached.

Unfortunately this same fearlessness does not show its face in many other areas of Doctor Sleep. A movie whose existence appears to be the continuation of Dan Torrance’s story falters in this exact execution.

Ewan McGregor brings the older version of Dan to life, and those familiar with his dense filmography will not be surprised to see him turn in another great performance. Despite glimpses of an impactful look at alcoholism, McGregor seems constrained by Doctor Sleep’s urgency to move from plot point to plot point at breakneck speed. Very rarely are Dan, Abra and many of the supporting characters given time to breathe within the story, instead suffocated by a script which seems more interested in “getting through” the plot rather than delving into its complex characters.

A key casualty of Doctor Sleep’s poor pacing is the relationships between its characters. Dan’s friendship with fellow AA member Billy is promising but extremely lacking, while Abra’s parents feel like a footnote to the story. Yet later Doctor Sleep expects to emotionally engage the audience with moments which hinge on these relationships, of which feel cold and distant. And yet, a lot of this may be forgiven if the pivotal dynamic of Dan and Abra takes precedence in the story. Except this isn’t really the case, as much like the others, the skeleton of a compelling relationship is there, but Doctor Sleep fails to give them enough screen time to flesh this out.

As Doctor Sleep rushes to its final act, some great thrills and set pieces scattered throughout, the excitement intensifies - it’s clear where this story has to conclude. Despite Flanagan’s best efforts the movie gets overwhelmed by the commanding presence of Stanley Kubrick’s horror masterpiece The Shining. In what could work as a beautiful love-letter to Kubrick’s classic, the story instead descends into a uncanny valley of trying to be both individualistic and stringently bound to the original movie. McGregor brings a certain level of humanity to an emotionally cold finale, but is avalanched with a few moments that feel more at home in a a direct-to-DVD sequel.

Ultimately Doctor Sleep is an entertaining return to the world of The Overlook Hotel with Rebecca Ferguson delivering a standout performance. But despite a host of memorable moments it tends to hurtle forward without any real sense of cohesion. An inoffensive sequel to one of cinema’s classic movies, but one that maybe doesn’t live up to its potential. It might be enough to entertain some horror hearts, but those looking for a more emotional punch may need to look elsewhere.

Conor Murray

Doctor Sleep is in cinema’s now with multiple screenings, including VIP packages at Odyssey Cinema -

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