To be honest, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. I’ve never been someone who read any of Stephen King’s books growing up, so my only experience towards The Shining has been through Stanley Kubrick’s iconic movie. The way the movie ended was satisfying and emotionally resounding. As such, the idea of any sequel felt iffy, even if based on a book by the original author. On top of that, the initial trailers made me feel like the movie was just going to be a series of Shining references without real substance. Thankfully, Mike Flanagan’s adaptation of Doctor Sleep manages to stand on its own two feet and genuinely surprised me in its depth and presentation.
The story follows Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he attempts to get over his horrifying experience at the Overlook hotel. He’s a rugged adult now and the film takes time at the beginning to really flesh out what we know about him and his motivations. If you’ve been reading my reviews for a while now, you know that I’m okay with the dreaded “slow burn” movie. However others may find this first hour slow and uneventful. There’s no real inciting incident or immediate answers to the events that we witness. Instead, we’re forced to take time getting to know the primary cast and their motivations. This makes the more serious and tense moments in the second and third act that much more exciting. I felt scared because I cared about the characters and knew what they were thinking and going through. Character decisions do get more “interesting” in the third act, but they never brought me out of the moment during the watch so I didn’t think too much about them. Even now they don’t seem like major issues and don’t detract from the more important moments, but it may annoy some viewers.
Acting is great all around. Ewan McGregor really sells the trauma that motivates and influences Dan’s actions. He’s asked to be a man at wit’s end in one moment and then a confident leader in another. Likewise, Kyliegh Curan’s performance as Abra stone manages to cover a wide range of emotions. She’s confident and bad ass when she needs to be, but when she’s scared it’s understandable. As a child actor, I’m even more impressed and appreciated how well Curan and McGregor played off each other. Their relationship is really cute and helps give the story a lot of it’s emotional weight. However, any review of Doctor Sleep that didn’t mention Rebecca Ferguson’s performance as as the main antagonist, Rose the Hat, would be horribly remiss. She absolutely captures the camera whenever she shows up. She oozes charisma, intelligence, malice, but also a deep emotional attachment to her “family.” It makes her a nuanced villain. Yes, she’s evil – but she’s so fun and suave with it that you can’t help but appreciate the lengths of what she’s willing to do.
I appreciated Flanagan’s recast of the Shining characters. I watched the movie with a friend, who thought that the dis similarities between the new actors/actresses versus the original actors/actresses was distracting. I can understand why and this may be something that puts viewers off. However, I do think each of the recasts captures the “spirit” of the original character. I could believe each of the actors/actresses as their characters , even if they weren’t great at cloning their original actor/actress as that character. There is one scene in the third act where I thought the differences were a bit too strong, but it didn’t distract me too much. Honestly, considering the alternative – a ton of CGI – I’m glad the more practical option was used. If IT 2’s de-aging showed me anything, it’s that technology still has limits.
The movie is crisply shot like all of Flanagan’s previous works. Nothing really surprised me in terms of composition or sound. However, that is not to say that scenes do not look cool. The movie has a lot of action moments that absolutely looked stunning and felt like they were ripped out of an manga or comic book. If you’ve seen Naruto and ever wanted to see real genjutsu fights, this movie has them and they are gorgeous.
I did appreciate all the homages to the original film in both the shot composition and track design. The third act honestly felt like a huge gush of fan-service, which I personally enjoyed. It felt like a nod at fans of the original and I liked it for what it was. It didn’t feel like it took anything away from the plot of the movie at hand. I do think some of the references could’ve been taken away because the movie felt like it could have been a tad bit shorter, but I didn’t mind it.
Thematically the movie focuses on responsibility and the extent of what our obligations are to others. The question is made more interesting by the philosophical questions raised by the scope and use of the “shining” power. I was surprised by how much the movie was making me think about how I would react in similar situations. Although , I think that some of the threads are answered haphazardly, the way the movie ended had me smiling. Based on the discussions I’ve been having, I definitely want to read the source material for both films and go through the experience again. This adaptation deserves that.
TLDR: Doctor Sleep is a beautiful movie that manages to balance both horror and action. It features one of the best villains of 2019 and is a fun ride the moment psychic shenanigans start happening.
Final Rating: 9.4/10 . This is the best King adaptation of 2019 and there have been a lot. If you ever wondered what happened to Doc after the events of The Shining, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.
Go to Page 2 for my spoiler-full thoughts!