Doctor Sleep (2019)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
Synopsis: Years following the events of "The Shining," a now-adult Dan Torrance must protect a young girl with similar powers from a cult known as The True Knot, who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror
MPAA Rating: R (for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use)
Runtime: 2 hr 32 min
Release Date: November 8, 2019
"The world's a hungry place. A dark place."
Truer words couldn't be spoken in Doctor Sleep, the film adaptation sequel to Stephen King's classic horror novel "The Shining." While King himself famously disliked Stanley Kubrick's film due to its numerous departures from his book, the film now has iconic status and is often regarded as one of the best horror films ever made. To say then that it's a tall order to make a great sequel is an understatement. But writer/director Mike Flanagan, fresh off the hit Netflix supernatural horror series The Haunting of Hill House, was up to the impossible task of somehow managing to balance honoring King's novel as well as Kubrick's masterpiece.
Ultimately, Flanagan's film caters more to Kubrick's version, which is somewhat necessary given how the end of Kubrick's film differs so heavily from King's novel. But while certain plot and character elements differ, the overarching spiritual themes are beautifully retained, delivering a thoughtful and engaging venture. One of the primary themes is that in order to cure the world and protect yourself in it, you have to stand up, not hide, and use your God-given abilities. The True Knot is a cult that feeds off other children's "shine" in order to sustain and elongate their lives (immortality is king here again). They serve as a metaphor for the dark, evil forces of this world that seek to extinguish all the good and light until there's nothing left but darkness. But the film reminds us that there is good in the world, too, and there is hope. You just have to be willing to make the stand, not hide your light under a bushel, and, if necessary, fight for it. To solidify the story's spiritual themes, I quote Matthew 5:14-15 in the KJV, "Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven."
Besides these spiritual ideas, the film also investigates the psychology of Dan, his haunted past, and his journey to alleviate and free himself of the torment of the events at the Overlook. It's not as personal of a journey as the one in King's novel, but we still get enough material to empathize and follow his trek to a better life, as he fights off alcoholism, depression, and aims to find meaning in his life.
The strong thematic elements aren't the only positive qualities of Doctor Sleep, though. The sure handed Flanagan is able to effectively conjure up a nightmarish atmosphere, utilizing a cool color palette and dark cinematography to bring King's novel to life. While we don't see the levels of suspense and shock as in Hill House, the film still sports several chilling scenes and moments, with one particularly horrifying murder scene. Flanagan also conveys the otherworldly quality of The True Knot by using some highly effective camera rotations and angles, as well as providing visual reminders by using glowing irises. The sound design is well crafted too, as Flanagan uses a continually pulsating heartbeat to deliver energy and suspense to scenes, along with strong emphasis of the sound of breath, as it's the life force The True Knot needs in order to ensure their survival.
Technical and thematic elements aside, Doctor Sleep is also aided by some strong performances, from Ewan McGregor (Dan Torrance) to Rebecca Ferguson (Rose the Hat) to the young Jacob Tremblay (Bradley Trevor) once again showing off a strong performance well beyond his years. Ferguson is particularly a scene-stealer, effectively channeling and embodying the desperate, unrelenting nature of The True Knot while continually possessing a deliciously wicked, conniving grin.
While it probably won't enter into the iconic status of Kubrick's film, Doctor Sleep is a strong sequel, delivering thoughtful thematic material while also possessing strong cinematography and performances. And while it doesn't have as much suspense as Kubrick's film, the atmosphere created by Flanagan greatly aids matters, making for a thoroughly entertaining and well-paced film, who's simple but elegant message to "shine on" resonates deeply as the credits roll.
Written by Anthony Watkins, November 17, 2019