It has been 40 years since Danny Torrance stayed, and fled, The Overlook Hotel in The Shining and now, with great intrigue, we’re taken back into that realm by director Mike Flanagan, who also wrote the screenplay, for Doctor Sleep, the film based on the novel by Stephen King.
Ewan McGregor plays the adult Danny and we open with him clearly in a troubled state, I think it’s safe to say this is from the trauma suffered all those moons ago. To put it straight, he’s an alcoholic and cares little for his day-to-day, as we witness him waking up in an unknown flat after a violent, drunken night out but it seems as it awakens, he’s drawn to escape, and after a visit from an old friend in the shape of Dick, here played by Carl Lumbly, the chef he befriended as a child in The Overlook, he sets off out of the city towards a new town.
As his search for a more peaceful life begins, Danny (somewhat) unintentionally encounters Abra (played by the magnificent Kyliegh Curran), a young teenager who has a seemingly similar gift to the one he’s repressed but… she’s a lot stronger and it’s clear that the ‘shine’ has returned. However, on the flip side, there’s also ‘The True Knot’, a group of ancient human-esque beings led by Rebecca Ferguson‘s Rose the Hat and they kill children with the ‘shining’, drink their screams and murder them to extend their own lives. So, with this and Rose’s detection of the powerful Abra, they’re on the hunt to eat and kill her, but can Danny stop them before they do?
I dug into Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep by watching the Director’s Cut, sitting pleasantly at three-hours long and, you know what, it’s worth every moment for full scenes and story evolution. Like many, I’ve grown up with Stephen King‘s creations and so his world and visualisations are set strongly in my mind. In regards to The Shining film, which is obviously interwoven to Doctor Sleep, I can understand why King didn’t always warm to the coldness of Stanley Kubrick’s vision for The Shining, nor appreciate the lack of full character arc for Nicholson’s Jack Torrance, but there’s always a place in movie history (and in my heart and mind) for that iconic film – and I have to direct you towards my visit to the Kubrick exhibition in London last year if you’re in the same place.
What Flanagan accomplishes with Doctor Sleep is exceptional, if you know his outstanding reworking of The Haunting of Hill House for Netflix, then you’ll know he’s already a master of creating tension and developing a story. For this, he wrote the screenplay based on King’s book and he’s never shied away from admitting he’s an aficionado of his work and you can feel it throughout this film. But this isn’t just a tribute, it’s a film that fluently blends both the books and the film we already know, plus it grows the story while simultaneously balancing out a substantial conclusion for all of the saga.
Also, as well as creating individual, visceral worlds for each lead character, that in the shape of Rose the Hat, Abra and Danny, Flanaghan manages to engage you with each character throughout. You feel the controlled chaos of the ‘True Knot’ and their quest for ever-lasting life – and you believe they’re adaptable and dangerous, with Ferguson being brilliantly beautiful and effortlessly evil. You sense Danny’s fight for a better conclusion to the life he’s led so far and the desire to correct something he should have done a long time ago. I felt I observed all of McGregor’s acting roles merging into this one soul, and (as an actor) he always gives you everything. And then, finally, the all-new ‘shine’ and power of Abra is something to behold. She’s a determined, vibrant and ingenious character, immensely portrayed by Kyliegh Curran. While unpredictable, she’s also likeable but most importantly, deftly creative with the power she holds within.
Much like Denis Villeneuve’s building of an expanded world for Blade Runner 2049, Flanagan and his team create a new universe to explore and admire. As well as some smart directorial flair and techniques to gives us a deft balance of mystery and invention, they also employ sections of the original score in the impeccable places to build tension.
Doctor Sleep is a wonderful re-visit of the things we know so well, but it’s also a step forward into the world that horrifies and excites from start to finish. I can’t recommend it enough and, if you’re also delving in for the first time, see if you can spot Henry Thomas and, of course, watch the Director’s Cut.