Written and directed by Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game), Doctor Sleep brings the traumatic story of little Danny Torrance and the terror of the Overlook Hotel out of a multidecade-long cinematic hibernation, presenting a long-awaited, creepily captivating, and mostly original sequel, while tying together Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining with Steven King’s thrilling novel on which it is based.
Now an adult, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) tries to drink away his problems, but this only leads to bad decisions and still-needed advice from his old friend, Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly). Looking to get away, Dan takes a bus up north to a small town in New Hampshire where he finds stability, a job, and a friend that help integrate him back into a nurturing community, while serving at a hospice care facility. The stable situation is a temporary one as Dan starts to receive messages from a young teenage girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who informs him that aggressive, sinister forces are preying upon innocent, young children led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) in an attempt to achieve immortality. Rose leads this perverse group known as the True Knot, as they stop at nothing to satisfy their thirst for souls. When Rose and Abra discover each other’s presence, an all-out battle, both physical and spiritual is waged, leading to a showdown that can only leave one party remaining among the living.
Even with a runtime of two and a half hours, Doctor Sleep should keep spectators engaged. The story slowly builds around the intriguing dynamic between Dan and Abra as Dan initially tries to dissuade Abra from interacting with the wicked forces, only to find himself being affectionately called Uncle Dan a short time later after Hallorann informs Dan of his need to team up with Abra to counter the evil. The acting is solid throughout. McGregor sells the audience as Dan, a weary and troubled man who learns to use his “shine” to comfort those in need. Curran’s interpretation of Abra should garner even more praise. With a mixture of horrific grimaces and beaming smiles, her authentic and emotional depiction of a teenager with magic powers is credible and entertaining, helping bridge the gap through some of the film’s slower moments. On the flip side, Rebecca Ferguson’s ruthless and cunning portrayal of Rose is the most impressive of all. That poisonous apple can often be so hard to resist, and Ferguson delivers as the seductive chief villain, inviting spectators to join her in experiencing moments of both power and pain.
As with any sequel, there are several nods to the first film, both in the script and visually, but they do not feel forced or out of place. Some viewers will be disappointed by the callbacks, but Flanagan does a great job balancing the pen and the seventh art, as many regard both the novel and the film as classics, despite their differences. Flanagan focuses on the importance of relationships and how good ones can overcome evil and selfishness that threaten to consume innocent and talented individuals.
With gruesome elements and bloody violence, Doctor Sleep is not a film for the younger viewers; even adults may find themselves turning their heads during a scene or two. The film could have done better in moving the story along. A bit disjointed at times, audiences may wonder how certain scenes fit together, but in the end, Flanagan does give them a finished puzzle in a familiar place.
As with the long hiatus between films, it takes this movie a while to get to its destination, but it is worth the wait in this well-acted and enticing horror drama with enough fresh action and suspense to keep its viewers’ eyes wide open.