DOCTOR SLEEP – an Alternative Lens review

Starring: Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), Rebecca Ferguson (The Greatest Showman), Kyleigh Curran, Carl Lumbly (Alias), Zahn McClarnon (Westworld), Emily Alyn Lynn (Code Black), Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek)

Writer/Director: Mike Flanagan (Oculus)

Runtime: 2 hours 31 minutes 

Release Date: 31st October (UK), 8th November (US)

For the sake of context, I think this needs to be said up front: I am not a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s certainly a fascinating piece of cinema full of iconic imagery, fantastic cinematography and production design, and an unnervingly brilliant score, but beyond Kubrick’s technical mastery the film is a malformed collage with far too many ideas to keep straight; no wonder there’s so many conspiracy theories about it (side note: I really, really hate the documentary Room 237). With that said, writer/director Mike Flanagan has the unenviable task in adapting the belated sequel to the screen. Whilst only time will tell if the final result will have as much impact as Kubrick’s original, it is undeniably a bold and skilfully crafted piece of work in its own right.

Whilst it does pay plenty of homage to Kubrick, Doctor Sleep is first and foremost a Mike Flanagan film and stays consistent with the style and tone of his previous horror outings. Atmosphere and allegory do certainly still play their role, but this entry puts more of an onus on plot and world building, and it ultimately pays off. It’s an effective continuation of Kubrick’s world whilst reconciling its differences with Stephen King’s novels whilst standing up as a solid horror film on its own. The story gets off to a bit of a slow and jumbled start as it gets its various plot threads in motion, but once they all begin flowing in harmony it’s a gripping and intense ride with plenty of twists and turns. It all builds to an absolutely jaw-dropping third act that’s essentially The Force Awakens for horror fans and gives this story something Kubrick’s film lacked for many: a definitive and satisfying ending. Whereas The Shining was a story about succumbing to one’s vices and the trauma they can put you and your loved ones through, Doctor Sleep is about learning to not run away from them and overcome them whilst you still can. It’s rare to find a horror film you could describe as heart-warming and uplifting, but Flanagan has somehow managed to pull that off, and for that feat alone it deserves much kudos.

Danny Torrance is certainly a fascinating character to pick up the story of nearly forty years later, and Ewan McGregor reveals himself the most ideally suited actor for the role beyond bringing Danny Lloyd out of retirement. (Did you know he’s a biology teacher at a community college now? Neat, huh?) Though adult Danny does tick many of the boxes on the “recovering alcoholic” cliché checklist (along with nearly the entire “Stephen King protagonist” cliché checklist), McGregor brings a depth and sympathy to this broken and reluctant man still clearly haunted by childhood trauma. His performance runs the gamut of emotions and intensity, and in the harrowing third act he really comes to play. Rebecca Ferguson is deliciously evil as antagonist Rose the Hat, bringing a certain charm and appeal to what is otherwise an unrepentantly despicable figure, whilst Zahn McClarnon and Emily Alyn Lynn have their own unique allure as her followers Crow Daddy and Snakebite Andi. Kyleigh Curran is a revelation as Danny’s apprentice-of-sorts Abra, bringing an optimism and sense of wonder to an otherwise horrifically dark tale that proves to be infectious; more of this young star, please! The film also features several Flanagan regulars in small roles like Bruce Greenwood and Jacob Tremblay, but the one I most want to talk about but can’t for spoiler reasons is Henry Thomas. His screen time may be brief, but his scene with McGregor is the film’s absolute high point.

Nobody can make a film like Stanley Kubrick and plenty have tried; just ask Steven Spielberg. However, Mike Flanagan has certainly come closer than most to effectively emulating the famed director. He wisely only uses direct visual callbacks sparingly and mainly relies on his own established talents, and the approach pays off and makes those moments of nostalgia feel earned. Much praise to production designer Maher Ahmad for so beautifully recreating the Overlook Hotel sets, and to cinematographer Michael Fimognari for emulating iconic cinema shots whilst also giving them unique twists. Whilst the visual effects aren’t always technically top notch, they make up for it with their imagination and design, making concepts like how Rose psychically tracks down Abra or how her minions pass away a delight to witness regardless. The original score by The Newton Brothers is suitably haunting and eerie, but there’s still something powerful about Wendy Carlos & Rachel Elkind’s compositions for The Shining that just can’t be matched, and they are frugally but effectively updated and employed here.

Doctor Sleep dares to directly compare itself to The Shining and comes out unscathed as it aptly buries the hatchet between King and Kubrick. It shows great reverence to its inspirations whilst mostly forging its own path, and cements Mike Flanagan as both a modern horror icon and specifically a Stephen King aficionado. No matter your stance on the original film as an adaptation, this is a film more than worth the price of admission, and brings a gratifying conclusion to a story that began nearly four decades ago.

FINAL VERDICT: 8/10

Author: Jennifer Heaton

Aspiring screenwriter, film critic, pop culture fanatic and perpetual dreamer.

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