Ewan McGregor stars as the grown-up version of Danny Torrance from The Shining. Doctor Sleep is a sequel to that horror classic, both films based on books by the premiere horror writer of our time — Stephen King. Danny is known as ‘Doctor Sleep’ by patients of a hospice facility, where he uses his ‘shining’ ability to provide comfort to people as they transition from this life to the next. But that’s really just the jumping off point. Doctor Sleep is really about Danny teaming up with a similarly gifted young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) to defeat a traveling band of soul-sucking immortal baddies who prey on young children with ‘shining’ powers.
Of course Doctor Sleep is no The Shining. Doctor Sleep is more direct and indulgent when it comes to visceral moments and explaining itself. Film snobs will of course prefer Stanley Kubrick’s elegance and restraint. But mainstream audiences should find the sequel gripping from about the half-hour mark through to the end. At a full two-and-a-half hours, I think the film started a little bit later in its timeline than necessary. But once Danny starts working at the hospice and begins communicating with Abra, Doctor Sleep is a solid horror/thriller with fun twists and a more-than-modest amount of fan-service. I especially appreciated the bold depiction of the villains. There’s a disturbing child murder sequence in this movie that I think pushes the line a bit. The film also affected me in its depiction of characters dying — poetically for the patients in hospice, and horrifically for the villains.
McGregor and Curran do commendable jobs in their leading roles, but the most compelling turn comes from Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, the defacto leader of the bad guys. As vile as she is, she gives enough humanity to the part to make the character complex and interesting. She’s especially fun to watch in the climactic showdown, in which she dismisses and objectifies Danny much the same way sexist male villains have treated women for years.
The film may rely a tad too much on imagery and recreations of scenes from Kubrick’s classic, and the storytelling might be a little too rushed in the last few minutes, but Doctor Sleep was far better than I was expecting. In fact, there’s a ‘calm before the storm’ moment between McGregor and another character (I won’t say who) that may be my favorite scene from a movie this year. Whether you’re a fan of The Shining or not, it’s definitely worth checking out. Directed by Mike Flanagan.