Doctor Sleep (2019)

Two years after successfully adapting Stephen King's Gerald' Game, Mike Flanagan has taken upon the task both to adapt another King novel, Doctor Sleep, and to follow up Stanley Kubrick's so-called horror masterpiece The Shining. While I can't say whether Flanagan's Doctor Sleep is a good adaptation or not as I'm yet to read the novel, I can say that he did an excellent job at making a sequel that, in my opinion, overshadows the original as it's a very (in)tense and rather creepy horror film from start to finish.

In 1980, after escaping the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Flyod) lives in Florida with his mother Wendy (Alex Essoe) but is still haunted by one of the hotel's ghosts, the woman of Room 237, and seeks the help of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly). In the meantime, we learn about the existence of the True Knot, a cult of quasi-immortals who feed on the steam escaping from dying and scared people led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).

Thirty-one years later, Danny (Ewan McGregor), who goes by "Dan", is an alcoholic drifter and ends up in a small town in New Hampshire. He immediately befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), who becomes his AA sponsor and gets him a job in the town's geriatric hospital. In the meantime, 5-year-old Abra Stone (Dakota Hickman) discovers her shining powers and begins telepathically communicating with Dan.

Eight years later, the True Knot abduct and tortured to death Bradley Trevor (Jacob Tremblay), a young boy with the shining; 13-year-old Abra (Kyliegh Curran) senses it and asks Dan for help.

The writing is the weakest part of the film. Story-wise, there’s one big issue with Flanagan’s adaptation, it takes for granted that its audience had read King’s novel; I haven’t which is the reason why I felt lost and confused at the beginning, unable to understand what was going on and to see how it would connect with The Shining. To my surprise, as the story begins to unfold and Flanagan interwines the three storylines — Dan, Abra and the Knot’s —, I realized how much invested I was, and I could not take my eyes off the screen, even when the film finds its climax in a disappointing nostalgic third act.

Character-wise, there’s a lack of characterization and development, and absolute no creativity when it comes to naming them — Abra is short for Abracadabra, and Rose the Hat is known as that because her name is Rose and she wears a hat. While I liked what they did with Danny’s character — it was only natural for him to become an alcoholic like his old man, even more so if you consider what he went through as a child —, his development is rushed — rather than showing him fighting his addiction, Flanagan jumps ahead of eight years —, and his role as Doctor Sleep in the geriatric hospital is criminally underused. The character of Abra couldn’t get any more one-dimensional, as couldn’t that of Dan’s friend Billy.

The villains aren’t that well written either. I don’t know who is to be blamed, either King or Flanagan, but the decision to have a powerful and menacing villain that scares us and makes us fear for the protagonists doesn’t really pay off. The problem is that they lack characterization, they don’t have a backstory and their motivations are shallow at its best. We are constantly reminded of how powerful Rose the Hat is and that Dan and Abra are in danger, and yet the numerous interactions between Rose and Abra actually show the contrary as Abra always has the upper hand.

Despite the poor writing, I could not help but sympathize for the heroes, root for them and feel sad and in pain whenever they got hurt, and fear Rose the Hat. And the credits go to the cast — and Flanagan for getting great performances from them.

While he’s not as memorable and magnetic as Jack Nicholson, Ewan McGregor gives a captivating and believable performance as adult Danny, delivering particularly well the character’s fragile mentality. The young Kyliegh Curran carries her portion of the film effortlessly and delivers a wonderful range of emotions. The actors portraying Wendy and Jack Torrance — Alex Essoe and Henry Thomas — both do a good job as their performances are very reminiscent of Duvall and Nicholson’s. The highlight for me though was Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat. She takes her weak, flawed villainous? Character and gives back a hypnotic, sensational performance that turns the character into a menacing and chilling one.

Doctor Sleep furthermore benefits from Mike Flanagan’s directing skills. He does a very good job imitating Stanley Kubrick’s directing style — I’m sure fans of Kubrick won’t like this but it’s a very nice way to homage the original fil and also remind you it’s a sequel you’re watching — and manages to deliver incredible levels of tension, especially in the dark-tones second act — I was on the edge of my seat all the time, genuinely feeling scared.

The sense of fear and dread and the gloomy atmosphere are even more enhanced by Michael Fimognari’s stunning cinematography and The Newton Brothers' haunting score.

Yes, Doctor Sleep is a flawed film but this doesn’t prevent it from being an entertaining and engaging fantasy horror worth of the written horror king, Stephen King.

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