Review: Doctor Sleep
The first announcement of Doctor Sleep all those years ago is still an event that truly frightens me. It scares me more than anything featured within the eventual adaptation of Stephen King’s 2013 book. Danny Torrance fighting what are, in effect, vampires. On the big screen, nearly forty years after the previous film in the series, the near masterpiece, The Shining, released. So how does Doctor Sleep fare? It holds the unenvious position of having to be as good as one of the greatest thrillers ever put to the big screen; and it just about manages to make a worthwhile attempt at bringing about a solidly engaging sequel.
Starring Ewan McGregor as an alcoholic, middle aged Danny Torrance, we see how Torrance has drifted through life, eventually coming to terms with his ability to “shine”. When he comes across Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a kid who possesses an immense shine, he helps her fend off the aggressive attacks of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her villainous True Knot cult. The stylings of King are thorough, represented perfectly well by an enjoyable cast and directed by up and coming horror connoisseur Mike Flanagan.
Flanagan’s other efforts within the genre have been sheepish at best, with redundantly tiring or basic premises’ that do nothing to pool his frightful visions into one cognitive narrative. With Doctor Sleep (his second King adaptation after 2017’s Gerald’s Game) we get a slightly wider glimpse into the horror he can offer the genre. Given the length of the film, these horrifying scenes are few and far between, but there are a small handful of visual flairs to his work that utilise both CGI and old school props to bridge new ideas with old formulas. This blend works evidently well, the horror is relatively strong, nowhere close to the chilling highs of The Shining’s climax but certainly more than I’d expected to see.
All of this horror comes down to some engaging performances. Ewan McGregor doesn’t manage to provide the finest performance of his career, but it’s clear he’s running with the idea of an alcoholic Danny Torrance. We’re able to see how broken a man Danny grew up to be, the horrors of his past at The Overlook Hotel never quite quelling or rescinding into his memory. He has scattered visualisations of his past, and the introduction of Abra brings it all back to the front of his mind. Unfortunately, the biggest issue surrounding Doctor Sleep is Danny himself. McGregor gives a great performance but there are jarring changes between his development in the book and his adaptation within the film. Some of these changes are surprisingly huge, the changing of minor characters, ending and interactions are major, to the point where it feels like its very own standalone piece.
That’s certainly not a bad thing if handled correctly, and for the most part Doctor Sleep is handled with the care you would expect of a Stephen King adaptation. The useless endeavour that was It: Chapter 2 had put a somewhat fearful vision in my mind that Doctor Sleep would be much the same. Thankfully all issues are avoided thanks to great performances. Rebecca Ferguson manages to step up her game to bring us a well-rounded if slightly forgettable villain in the form of Rose the Hat. Not the most interesting villain to come from the work of King, but Ferguson works with what she’s given.
It would be hard not to compare The Shining and Doctor Sleep given that they link with one another so closely. Doctor Sleep manages to throw in a few references and nice nods in its first two hours that make for cosy viewing for returning fans of the film series. Those that are fans of King’s work in general will be pleasantly surprised with how his work here has been adapted. Ranging from slight nods to genuine re-telling of The Shining, Flanagan’s sequel, Doctor Sleep is a certainly enjoyable piece. It feels a tad unnecessary and a bit bloated, and this may be due to the severe changes to the base text throughout. Either way, Doctor Sleep is a long-awaited fan pleaser, and it just so happens that I’m a fan of The Shining. It sticks with its very specific audience and runs with it, and there’s nothing wrong with that.