Movie ReviewsDoctor Sleep – A Fatefully-Adjacent Followup (Early Review)

Keith NoakesOctober 31, 2019
Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
Mike Flanagan
Mike Flanagan
14A (Canada), R (United States)
Running Time
151 minutes
Release Date
November 8th, 2019
Overall Score
Rating Summary
Doctor Sleep is a franchise-adjacent followup that may be slightly too long but stands on its own alongside The Shining while paying homage to it in its own but different way.

Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is widely considered to be one of the greatest horror films of all time, let alone one of the greatest films of all time. Despite this, Stephen King was not particularly fond of Kubrick’s adaptation of his novel, resulting in a film that wasn’t necessarily fateful to his novel. Is was this dissatisfaction that birthed Doctor Sleep, a new novel serving as a sequel to The Shining that would be published 36 years later. Because of the infamous history behind it, suffice it to say that as a film, Doctor Sleep needed to walk a fine line as it would need to please three separate subsections of factions of fans, those of The Shining novel and its film adaptation as well as fans of Doctor Sleep. It is safe to say that this film finds an ample middle ground between these three, however, with the nature of fandom, it surely won’t satisfy everyone.

Doctor Sleep sees an adult Danny Torrence (McGregor), burnt out and turning to alcohol to deal with his understandably tumultuous childhood and his special powers, called the Shining. Now on the path of turning his life around, he would be pulled into the world of the Shining and a young girl named Abra (Curran) who possessed similar powers. For those wondering if they should see The Shining before watching this film, the answer is not necessarily. Other than for some background, this film make take place in the same world but was at most adjacent to it, standing on its own meanwhile not relying on the original story’s plot (the film serves more as a sequel to the novel than the film).

Torrence and Abra would find themselves in the crosshairs of a mysterious cult known as the True Knot and their leader Rose the Hat (Ferguson), a group who preyed on children with their powers to remain immortal. Compared to the original film, Doctor Sleep takes more of a psychological approach for its horror. That’s not to mean that the film did not have its moments of brutality. Instead of being a straight rehash of The Shining (audiences should not expect that), this film tries to be its own thing, using a different voice to take things in a different directions but still pay homage to the original. There are plenty of tidbits and Easter eggs throughout that should satisfy fans of The Shining, including a quick catch-up of what happened since the original and a thrilling final act which may admittedly be viewed as fan service at the expense of the rest of the film.

With a running time of 2.5 hours, Doctor Sleep was arguably slightly too long, however, it certainly won’t feel that way watching. While The Shining may have had a more mysterious narrative, this film was much more straightforward which meant a lot more information to be laid out (some of it could have been cut out to help it get going a touch faster). Though it wasn’t particularly scary, it was definitely an intense watch. It was unsurprisingly dark but a chilling score as well as great production values, cinematography, set design (especially in the final act), etc, kept things exciting to watch. Torrence and Abra were compelling to watch together because of what they had in common as the film served, amongst all the chaos, as a deep-seeded redemption story juxtaposed against the naive energy of Abra.

The best part of Doctor Sleep was its excellent performances of its three leads, McGregor, Ferguson, and Curran as Torrence, Rose the Hat, and Abra respectively. McGregor was his incredibly charming self while delivering a thoughtfully restrained performance as a man damaged by his many demons while still showing some moments of humanity. Ferguson looked to be having the time of her life, chewing the scenery in what was an entertainingly over-the-top performance. Her character was despicable but her presence made it hard to look away. It was just a shame that the story couldn’t go further with the character. Finally, in her first big role, Curran was impressive at standing her own alongside the many pressures of a film like this and the stars she would act with.

In the end, Doctor Sleep may not be The Shining but that’s okay since it doesn’t have to be. Replicating that film would be nearly impossible so instead is a film that works on its own.

*still courtesy of Warner Bros.*

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