Time: 151 Minutes
Age Rating: Violence, horror, drug use & offensive language
Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance
Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat
Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone
Cliff Curtis as Billy Freeman
Carl Lumbly as Dick Hallorann
Zahn McClarnon as Crow Daddy
Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi
Bruce Greenwood as Dr. John Dalton
Director: Mike Flanagan
Struggling with alcoholism, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) remains traumatized by the sinister events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel when he was a child. His hope for a peaceful existence soon becomes shattered when he meets Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a teen who shares his extrasensory gift of the “shine.” Together, they form an unlikely alliance to battle the True Knot, a cult whose members try to feed off the shine of innocents to become immortal.
Doctor Sleep was one of my most anticipated movies of 2020, however the filming of it seemed to have gone so well that the release date was moved up to 2019. Mike Flanagan has been proving himself as a really solid horror director with movies like Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, and with Gerald’s Game he showed himself at being great at adapting Stephen King’s work (which is now being praised as one of the best Stephen King movies). So, he was definitely a person who could at least handle the challenging task. On top of that, Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson would be part of the cast, and they’re very talented actors cast in some very prominent roles in this movie. So even though The Shining sequel on paper seemed like it would be a disaster, the talent behind it and the fact that it would be based off one of King’s books at least showed that it had potential. Doctor Sleep actually manages to surpass expectations and is one of my favourite movies so far this year.
First of all, I think we need to talk about the obvious, the fact that Doctor Sleep is sort of a sequel to The Shining. A lot of people will be expecting it to be just that, a Shining sequel. However, it’s a completely different movie and plays completely differently, it’s definitely standalone and its own thing. The movie is lengthy at 2 hours and a half long, and for quite a large part of the movie it’s quite slow and that may lose some people. For the first 40 minutes it’s spending time with Danny Torrance (played by Ewan McGregor), showing him in his adult life decades after the events of The Shining. I really do appreciate that they didn’t just try to jump to the horror scenes and have a fast moving plot, they actually took the time to establish him in his current state. I know that a lot of people will be bugged by this, but I wouldn’t wish for this bit to be cut down at all. Once it starts bringing in the antagonists of The True Knot into the forefront, that’s when the movie really starts to pick up. Generally though, Doctor Sleep takes its time telling its story, and I really appreciated that. I noticed that there was a lot of concern is that it’s just riding the coattails of The Shining, and that’s definitely not the case. While there are characters from that first movie/book that appear and are mentioned, it generally stays as its own thing. It’s really only the last 30 minutes where it goes to the Overlook Hotel, so there’s 2 whole hours of the movie having to stand on its own first. I know some people may be bugged by these scenes but I personally liked the callbacks, it doesn’t quite go overboard as they could’ve. Now I guess you could watch Doctor Sleep without watching The Shining and be completely fine with it all, but the last 30 minutes aren’t going to mean that much to you if you don’t. As for accuracies to the book, I haven’t looked into it too deeply, but I did hear that the movie stays mostly true to it until the last act.
The cast are all great in their roles. Ewan McGregor is solid as Danny Torrance, who was traumatised for decades after the events of The Shining and becoming an alcoholic like his father Jack. The first 40 minutes of the movie is dedicated to following him and showing what happened with him before the plot kicks in, and McGregor’s performance is a big part of why it works so well. Danny’s recovery arc is also handled very well throughout the plot, especially in the third act. Kyliegh Curran was really impressive as Abra, a girl who is very powerful with the Shining ability that Danny and the main villains of the movie take notice of. She also gets to show herself as being very powerful with her abilities and Curran was very convincing in these scenes. There are also the antagonists who work very well within the movie, they are called The True Knot, who are a group of people who torture and kill people with the Shine so that they can feed off it and live for a very long time. It’s led by Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, who nearly steals the movie and I can see her becoming an iconic horror villain with some time. Ferguson plays Rose and she’s absolutely captivating whenever she’s on screen. The rest of the True Knot with the likes of Zahn McClamon and Emily Alyn Lind aren’t quite given the same level of attention or depth but are also given some distinct personalities and characteristics. Something that is effective is that the movie bothers to actually make them human and show their perspective on things. It makes them feel more real and not just one dimensional villains who do bad things because the plot demands it. Other supporting actors work well, like Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, and more. I won’t get into too much about what his role is or what happened with him in the story, but Jacob Tremblay is in a small portion of the movie, yet managed to be a standout with his performance being a large part of the reason why his scene worked so well.
Mike Flanagan by now is more than familiar with the horror genre at this point, and once again he does a great job at directing. It’s stunning to look at and the visuals are great and creative, I wasn’t prepared for how some of the scenes would play out. There’s particularly a very trippy sequence maybe halfway into the movie involving Rose the Hat, and it was one of the highlights of the movie for sure. While I guess there are scenes of horror, I didn’t necessarily feel this was a horror movie all the way through, though I was fine with that. There’s surely no obnoxiously handled jumpscare here, so that’s a win. With all that being said, by far the most horrific scene in the movie was the one involving Jacob Tremblay, you’ll know what I mean when you see it. Even if you wanted to make just an adaptation of Doctor Sleep only keeping in mind what happened in The Shining book, there’s no way that you can just ignore Kubrick’s version, it’s become so incredibly iconic at this point. This movie tributes The Shining quite a lot in how it’s directed, especially in the way a lot of it is shot even before the plot gets to the Overlook Hotel. Personally I feel these moments are earned. The only aspect that really bugged me are when they flat out have flashbacks to scenes from the original movie but recreate them with different actors and all that. They were really distracting and honestly just weren’t needed, anyone who saw The Shining or even vaguely knows about it already knows about many of the iconic scenes and didn’t serve the movie in any way. With that said, it only happened a couple times thankfully. It plays a small part in the movie, but the Overlook hotel was recreated well, pretty much as close to the Kubrick movie as possible.
Doctor Sleep is a solid follow up to the original Shining, while managing to really stand on its own. Mike Flanagan’s direction was excellent, the cast were great (especially McGregor, Curran and Ferguson), it’s captivating and character driven, and although the movie is lengthy, it really utilises that longer runtime well. Considering the massive task they had and all the things they had to get right, I think they really pulled it off.