“Doctor Sleep” Movie Review


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     Getting into the direct sequel business of a notable long ago classic can be a tricky filmmaking endeavor.  A recent example of this was seen with 2017’s “Blade Runner 2049”, where director Denis Villeneuve was given the difficult task of creating a follow up to Ridley Scott’s 1982 science fiction masterpiece “Blade Runner”.  Filmmakers in this position run into issues involving everything from fan expectation to the inevitable comparison to the source material.  It’s easy to dismiss a sequel when it follows the original a couple of years later, but when there’s a gap of several decades, attention is duly given and the scrutiny in today’s cancel culture can be downright toxic.  This is exactly what Mike Flanagan signed up for as the writer/director of “Doctor Sleep”, a sequel coming 39 years after Stanley Kubrick’s divisive 1980 horror thriller “The Shining”.

     Based on the 2013 novel by Stephen King, “Doctor Sleep” picks up soon after the events of the first film, casting look alike actors in the roles of a young Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd) and Wendy Torrance (Alex Essoe), as they attempt to move on in a new life away from the horrible nightmare both experienced at the hands of Jack Nicholson’s iconic character.  These scenes serve as a way of communicating to the audience, for those who might need a refresher, the gifts Danny possesses and his abilities to see and communicate with spirits in the past and the future of which he refers to as “shining”.  We then move forward to the present day, where a now middle aged Danny (Ewan McGregor) is saddled with the pain of his past, unable to hold down any meaningful employment or relationships.  In short, he struggles to escape the undying legacy of his father and the abuse he and his mother endured.

     Just when he seems to find stability in a small New Hampshire town, working as an orderly at a hospice care facility where his unique talents actually come in handy, a new threat emerges in the form of a cult like group called The True Knot.  Now there have certainly been some creepy things that have come out of Stephen King’s twisted mind over the years, but this group may very well be his most nefarious.  Led by their diabolical leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the band of near immortals travel the country hunting children who possess the ability to “shine”.  Once caught, they pin them down and slowly torture them in order to release a substance they subsist off of called the “steam”.  The horrific ritual continues until the child dies and the entire group pounces like blood thirst zombies for the last breaths of “steam” exuding from the corpse’s lifeless body.  It is these types of images that truly make “Doctor Sleep” a horror film in its purest form.

     But aside from Danny, who has somehow avoided any entanglement with The True Knot, there is another possessing a level of “shining” power not seen previously, who is now preparing to enter the fray.  A young middle schooler named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) is accidentally discovered when she begins to communicate with Danny via telepathy and is somehow connected to Rose the Hat as well when she begins looking into the mysterious disappearance of a child in Iowa.  Given the ability of all involved, it’s only a matter of time before Rose and her tribe track down both Abra and Danny.  In many ways, all of these people have powers similar to that of Bran’s Three Eyed Raven in “Game of Thrones”, making for an interesting telepathic tug of war between characters who look to somehow mask the other’s reality in order to gain necessary tactical advantages.  Figuring out what’s real and what isn’t seems to be the difference between living and finding yourself being gutted for your “steam”.

     As was the case with Villeneuve in making “Blade Runner 2049”, Flanagan has the liberty to lift anything he wants from the original film’s design, look, and visual elements that made it one of the most shocking horror films of all time.  Flanagan is able to utilize the camera movements and set ups Kubrick employed and does so in a way that brings forth a true connection between the two films.  Sure the action is less claustrophobic given the multiple settings and wide open road film like nature of the story, but you feel as though all of this is taking place in the same universe while being lensed by the same creative forces.  And while a lot of that credit has to go to King for penning the sequel novel, thereby allowing Flanagan to utilize proven source material for the screenplay rather than attempting an original story on his own, there still is the Kubrick element the filmmakers had to get right. Something that is proven in the film’s finale at the shuttered Overlook Hotel.

     Adding to the evil vibe are standout performances throughout, particularly from Ferguson, who brings forth a villain who actually has a discernible personality that goes well beyond the typical one note horror film antagonist.  Along with her is a formidable crew, including her right hand, a guy named Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon), who proves to be a worthy adversary when all of these characters finally collide.  But perhaps more than anyone, you have to like new comer Kyliegh Curran, whose Abra proves to be the central figure responsible for carrying the entire film, doing so in a way far beyond her years.  And it is these solid character developments, playing out over a 151 minute running time, which elevate “Doctor Sleep” to the kind of sequel that may not necessarily surpass the original, but certainly makes a case to stand on its own.  GRADE: B+