Imagine being tasked with directing the sequel to the literal perfect film The Shining, almost 40 years after its original release? Talk about terrifying. I would undoubtedly vaporize on the spot if any sort of opportunity like that was ever presented to me. However, writer/director Mike Flanagan is no stranger to working with canon source material after loosely adapting Shirley Jackson’s 1959 novel The Haunting of Hill House into a Netflix miniseries in 2018 that was equal parts scary and devastating. And now, he’s back straddling that same line again with Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s continuation of The Shining.
Doctor Sleep picks up decades after The Shining. Dan Torrance has grown up to become Ewan McGregor (honestly, who would’ve guessed?), a man wrestling with the grief and trauma of his past in self-destructive ways. While working on his sobriety, he meets Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who has recently begun exploring her own supernatural powers. And it isn’t long until The True Knot, an immortal cult who hunt gifted children for sustenance, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), is hot on her trail.
“With strong new characters and an obvious affection for the original, Flanagan gives fans the movie they’ve been waiting for.”
For a movie with a two and a half hour runtime, I remained wholly enthralled throughout. Doctor Sleep is a story very much grounded in reality — after all, what’s more real than an extremely sad man living an extremely sad life for extremely sad reasons — but you always know there’s something surreal lurking in the next room. And this balancing act of the mundane and the sinister is one of Flanagan’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker.
With his directorial command, Flanagan seamlessly navigates three completely separate storylines — all with powerful and complex character arcs anchored by some of the most compelling performances you’ll see this year. Flanagan successfully weaves in and out of Dan, Abra, and Rose’s lives while creating tension, chemistry, and a thread between them whether they are sharing the frame or not.
As Danny, McGregor bubbles with repressed memories and emotions. While rough around the edges, he’s a man who desperately wants to break his family’s cycle of addiction. His pain is palpable, largely due to McGregor’s contained and raw performance. Playing opposite him, Ferguson and Curran are absolutely electric in their roles. Ferguson bursts into the film as a charming, bone-chilling, and unforgettable antagonist. She breathes authenticity and life into Rose the Hat, a character that could’ve turned into a one-note, cliched Stevie-Nicks-meets-eccentric-carnie situation.
As for Curran, a star is born. For her first feature film performance, she holds her own and then some next to McGregor and Ferguson. Feeling like a superhero origin story, Abra is brimming with more power than is usually given to girls on screen. With her dynamic performance, Curran gives us a bonafide hero that I can’t wait for audiences to have forever.
“[The] balancing act of the mundane and the sinister is one of Flanagan’s greatest strengths as a filmmaker.”
Marrying both visions of The Shining – King’s and Kubrick’s – couldn’t have been an easy feat, but Flanagan does quite a good job. The iconography is there, but so is the heart. King famously resented Kubrick’s icy filmmaking so Doctor Sleep, full of Flanagan’s signature humanity, feels more in line with what King always wanted. However, with that signature humanity also comes Flanagan’s heavy-handedness. In so much of his work, he spoon-feeds the audience a message that is already there and easily found. He could definitely stand to give us a little more credit. A couple of eye-rolls later, this is perhaps my only gripe with the film.
While Doctor Sleep isn’t perfect, it is as perfect as a sequel to The Shining could ever hope to be. With strong new characters and an obvious affection for the original, Flanagan gives fans the movie they’ve been waiting for. It is a movie that stays with you, settling into a quiet corner of your psyche — much like the ghosts of The Overlook Hotel.
Are you planning to see Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep this weekend? What did you think of Stephen King follow-up novel? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club. And be sure to enter our Instagram Giveaway to win a signed Doctor Sleep poster, courtesy of Warner Bros. Canada!