Doctor Sleep is a film that manages to unify the Kubrick version of The Shining with the book universe of author Stephen King, and it does so by telling its own compelling, suspenseful, and yes, horrifying story.
The film opens a few months after the events of The Shining. Danny and his mother are living in Florida, and Danny is plagued by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel. They haunt him even this far away, still drawn to his Shine. Halloran appears and teaches Danny how to deal with the demons from the hotel and this advice helps to save the young boy’s mind, but cannot help him ultimately deal with the demons his father has left behind. In the meanwhile, we also learn there is a group of near-immortal “vampires” known as The True Knot, roaming the countryside, led by a villain named Rose the Hat, and they subsist off the suffering and death of those people who have the Shine. We later see Danny older, not much wiser, in the full-throws of addiction, living the life his father would have. He hits rock bottom and Halloran appears to him again. Danny runs and finds a sanctuary in New Hampshire, where he learns to deal with his addictions and get his life back on track, also learning to accept how his Shine can be a gift to help others. We also are introduced to a young lady named Abra, who is especially full of the Shine, and she manages to contact Danny (now Dan) because she senses him despite the fact he’s cut himself off for so many years, dulling his power with alcohol and drugs. They form a sort of friendship that is sorely tested when Rose the Hat and her evil band of henchmen discover that Abra exists, and they’re coming to get her. Dan must help Abra, but can he overcome his own doubts and fears?
This film works on so many levels. First, it is a very faithful adaptation of the source novel by King, and where it deviates it does so in order to tie the story into the cinematic version of The Shining story that Kubrick told, a version that infuriates author King to this day. Director Mike Flanagan takes motifs and visuals and the soundtrack itself from the Kubrick film and integrates them into this new story of Danny and what happened to the boy with the Shine. This could result in an utter failure and could have come across as cheap and exploitative, but instead works like a charm. It draws you into the film immediately, having the comfort of The Shining as background and enrichment to the gruesome horror that this new story tells. It’s awesome to see the old Overlook recreated so faithfully, with Flanagan paying homage to Kubrick with shot selections and point of view angles. When Dan and Abra return to the Overlook at the end of the movie, and Flanagan executes that opening shot of The Shining, as the camera glides over the water and up the mountain road, only now in the dark instead of the bright sunlight, it elicits chills and well as thrills. You know there’s a showdown coming and it’s going to be spectacular.
Ewan McGregor plays Dan and gives a fantastic performance as a man haunted by his past, both supernaturally and emotionally, on the constant verge of breaking down and losing his humanity. He deals with addictions and fears and a general sense of loneliness and not belonging to this world. It is through his friendships with other people who have the Shine (Halloran and Abra) and the house cat (who also Shines) of the hospice where he works, along with his only “normal” friend Billy (a terrific turn by actor Billy Freeman), that he stays grounded and connected. Kudos also go out to Kyliegh Curran who is excellent as Abra, and to Rebecca Ferguson, who gives a star performance as baddy Rose, a turn that will land her in the pantheon of all-time horror villain greats. Also, do not sleep on the layered performance of Zahn McClarnon as Crow Daddy and the sizzling menace Emily Alyn Lind portrays as Snakebite Andi. The villains in this film are as vital and compelling and just as interesting, complex, and flawed as the heroes. That’s great writing, there.
Which leads to the final point. Mike Flanagan wrote, directed, and edited this film. It’s his baby, and it all rests on him whether it succeeds or fails. He very wisely drew from the wells of a great filmmaker in Kubrick and a great storyteller in King and combined the two, entwining their visions into his own. Somehow, this movie is all at once Kubrick, King, and Flanagan. He finds the beats that worked best in both versions and uses his own talents to weave them together. In other words, this is his baby, but it bears the inherited traits of its parents, sort of like the Dan character himself.
All this said, the film is suspenseful, scary, terrifying and horrific. Try to sit through the Baseball Boy scene and not squirm. The stakes are high, the villains are marvelous, and the heroes are tarnished but honorable. This is the oldest tale of all: Good versus Evil, and Flanagan tells it in a way that gives tribute to the masters that have come before, all while putting his own voice into the story. So far, it is the horror film of the year, and one of the best overall films of the year.
Four Buckets of Blood out of Four
Kelly is the author of dozens of stories and dozens of reviews, he likes to write, he likes to read, he likes going to the movies, and he loves to laugh. He hails from the wilds of Kentucky and if you'd like to see more of his work, check out his website: www.kellymhudson.com