The Shining scared the crap out of me as a little kid. I'd snuck into the living room that memorable late night and watched alone on HBO. Redrum, ghostly twin girls, and the unforgettable "Here's Johnny" became an indelible part of my film psyche. Thirty-nine years after The Shining's theatrical release, director Mike Flanagan has crafted a brilliant sequel. Doctor Sleep is the film adaptation of Stephen King's 2013 novel. A supernatural thriller with a riveting story, Doctor Sleep successfully recreates the atmospheric darkness. Fans of the original film and novels will be pleased.
Doctor Sleep opens in 1980 shortly after the tragic events at the Overlook Hotel. A still traumatized Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd) is visited by the spirit of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly). He's taught a valuable trick to deal with the ghosts haunting him. Thirty years later, the adult Danny (Ewan McGregor) is a broken shell of a man. A drunken drifter, he moves from town to town, until a strange feeling brings him to New Hampshire.
A terrifying group of predators hunt people with the ability to "shine." Led by the wicked and alluring Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot cult sucks the "steam" out of the gifted, especially children. The life essence consumed fuels their immortality. Rose gets a faint sense of a child with incredible powers. Danny, who's achieved sobriety through a kind friend (Cliff Curtis), has been communicating telepathically with a mysterious girl (Kyliegh Curran). As she learns to use her unparalleled psychic strength, Rose becomes obsessed with finding her. Danny must face his past demons to protect the girl and battle the ravenous True Knot.
Doctor Sleep has an intricate plot that's skillfully fleshed out. The story develops at an even pace with the characters. Danny's arc takes him from despair and alcoholism to bonafide hero. We flashback to him as a child, with his mother (Alex Essoe), throughout the film. The horrors they endured made him fearful to use his power. The discovery of the girl and True Knot gives Danny purpose. Ewan McGregor's ability to show weakness, and then incredible resolve is remarkable. Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Gerald's Game) found the perfect actor to portray Danny's journey.
Rebecca Ferguson is a vital component to Doctor Sleep's effectiveness. She is a fantastic villain. Rose the Hat is not a cackling witch or femme fatale demon. Her evil is nuanced, thoughtful and deliberate with every move. She's a creature that slowly stalks her victims, then delights in the bloody kill. The True Knot thrives on pain and suffering. They devour steam like addicts desperate for a fix. Rose and her followers are formidable enemies. Kudos again to Mike Flanagan for his solid character exposition. Everyone's motivation is clear.
Doctor Sleep doesn't grab you with cheap scares. It builds on established lore and tells a continuing story in the same vein of The Shining. I was mightily impressed by the mood of the film. There's no CGI gimmickry or gratuitous gore. The excellent lead performances coupled with Mike Flanagan's visual style sucks you in utterly. Doctor Sleep achieves what It Chapter Two failed to accomplish, a compelling film worthy of classic Stephen King. Doctor Sleep is a production of Intrepid Pictures and Vertigo entertainment with distribution by Warner Bros.