"Doctor Sleep" is the sequel to the classic 1980 Stanley Kubrick horror film, "The Shining," from the twisted mind of Stephen King...and it's deliciously entertaining.
Jack Nicholson's crazed face sticking through a broken door inside the Overlook Hotel is one of the most iconic images in the history of cinema. Jack's character in "The Shining," Jack Torrance, was driven mad by the mysterious, haunted hotel, with his son, Danny, showing signs of psychic powers...these powers were known as "shine," and even though Danny survived the horrible occurrences of 1980 and the events of the first film, we learn in "Doctor Sleep" that the past always has a way of catching up with you.
In this sequel, Ewan McGregor plays a grown-up Danny, a man at the end of his rope emotionally and physically. He is a drunk, mainly because the drinking keeps his "shine" dulled down and at bay. Danny is mostly a loner, but has been trained to conquer many of his demons with help from a phantom, ghost-like advisor named Tony (Scatman Crothers).
Now normally when it comes to horror and mystery, the more that is revealed the worse and less effective things become. "Doctor Sleep" is the rare exception. In this story, the world of "The Shining" is expanded upon greatly, and it's revealed that Danny is not alone in his "shining" abilities...in fact, there are several across the globe that have varying levels of "shine," and most don't even know that they possess these unique powers. But some do. A powerful "shiner" that goes by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), has banded together with a few others like her, and they travel around on a constant quest for immortality. You see, just like a vampire needs to drink blood in order to thrive and survive, this group hunts for those that have this unique "shining" power and they literally suck the "shine" right out of them. On-screen, it's visualized as some sort of weird mist or steam, and it is their literal lifeline.
The ball gets rolling when we discover that a young girl, Abra (Kyliegh Curran), is the Anakin Skywalker of shiners...she seems to have potential to be the most powerful shiner of all-time. With the ability to reach out psychically to others like her, she forms a bond with Danny from afar. But her unbridled powers also draws the attention of Rose and her gang, setting things in motion.
Smartly, "Doctor Sleep" doesn't try to be "The Shining." It looks and feels like its own movie, and even tonally it does not exist in the same vein of horror. Much of "Doctor Sleep" operates in thriller-territory, not spooky, unexplained terror. It does find a way to revisit the Overlook Hotel, but whenever "Doctor Sleep" brings the old film into focus, it feels more like homage and reverence as opposed to exploitation.
At times, it feels like a movie that might have been able to stand on its own two feet, and its ties to "The Shining" seems to get in the way of things. But those same ties give "Doctor Sleep" a deeper mythology, and a point of familiarity that makes jumping on-board as an audience member a bit more thrilling than, say, had it been a movie simply about soul-sucking vampires. Some references feel shoe-horned in, but several feel natural and make sense given the story. It's also a bit long and gets implausible here and there, but "Doctor Sleep" is far from a snooze-fest.
Rebecca Ferguson is wonderful, the sort of Stephen King villain that seems to jump off the page. So is her main henchman, played by the underrated and underused Zahn McClarnon, who was SOOO good on TV's "Fargo." Needless to say, McGregor is solid like always, and the rest of the supporting cast, including Curran, give nuance to the film.
"Doctor Sleep" somehow lives up to the hype, as a worthy sequel to a cinematic classic. It does so by paying respect to the original, but never trying to emulate its tone or beats. "Doctor Sleep," if nothing else, is its own thing. Don't sleep on this one.
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Horror.
Run Time: 2 hours 31 minutes.
Based on the novel by Stephen King.
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind.
Directed by Mike Flanagan ("Gerald's Game," "Before I Wake," "Oculus," "Still Life").
"Doctor Sleep" opens everywhere on Friday, November 8th, 2019.
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