How does one craft a forty year-later sequel to what is widely considered one of if not the greatest horror film of all time that is also based on a sequel novel by an author that didn't appreciate the aforementioned film adaptation? In other words, how does one approach making a film based on a book that is the sequel to the original source material as well as being a sequel to the film adaptation that the author of both novels didn't care for? Tricky, right? Complicated? Complex? Beyond difficult? Sure, it's all of these things and while I've not read any Stephen King in some time (we're talking probably high school) and wasn't aware the master of horror had penned a sequel to The Shining in 2013 it seems inevitable still that this is where we are six years later with the one hundred and fifty-two minute Doctor Sleep. In the same amount of time since King's follow-up was released, writer/director Mike Flanagan burst onto the scene with a feature length adaptation of his short film, Oculus, that paved the way for him to become Netflix's go-to guy for original horror content as the filmmaker not only produced original films for the streaming service like Before I Wake and Hush, but also got his feet wet with another King adaptation in 2017's Gerald's Game then going on to oversee the wildly successful TV series, The Haunting of Hill House, that premiered to rave reviews last year. This is all to say that Flanagan has developed a style all his own and more importantly-a penchant for gauging the type of scares and imagery to best represent the horrors of a given story-meaning he's able to grasp the characters and their circumstances in a way where the scares aren't for the sake of the genre, but are in fact appropriate and even further, indicative, of the type of narrative being disclosed. Flanagan does this through soft, but illuminating character moments in which he latches onto certain aspects of an individual bound to serve a significant role in the story he's telling and then track the arc of said character trait through the more genre-specific events that naturally tend to enlighten the character to this side of themselves they may have either not previously considered or wanted to face in ways that are emotionally compelling and thematically resonant. Thus is the case with adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) in Doctor Sleep as Flanagan's now distinctive approach blends with the style of Stanley Kubrick's 1980 film and the tone of King's writing to create a well-rounded, expertly balanced yet equally effective journey that is both everything fans of the original film might have hoped for as much as it is wholly its own endeavor; a bridge between who we were meant to be, who we become and the resilience necessary to counteract the detrimental and absolve one's self of their past in order to continue to shine.   

Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is all grown-up and ready to return to The Overlook in Doctor Sleep.
© 2019 - Warner Bros. Pictures
Doctor Sleep mostly takes place in real time forty years after the events of The Shining, but not before first presenting young Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother, Wendy (Alex Essoe), shortly after the happenings at the Overlook Hotel as the film both quickly serves to recap the events of that fateful winter while detailing how Danny seemingly moved on afterward and continued to deal with his "abilities" with the aid of consistent visits from old friend Dick Hallorann (now played by Carl Lumbly). We are next introduced to Danny in 2011 where it becomes apparent rather quickly that he's developed something of a serious drinking problem and bounces from town to town in an effort to literally escape the ghosts of his past. After what is maybe the most hauntingly devastating scene in the entire film (which, might signal to be a bad thing for a movie that's two and a half hours long, but trust me-it's not) Danny is invigorated to get his life in order after said event and is lucky to befriend Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) when he gets off the bus in New Hampshire. Billy, out of little more than the goodness of his heart, gives Dan a place to stay and time to get on his feet while also bringing him along with him to his AA meetings (led by the always welcome Bruce Greenwood) in an attempt to help set Dan on a better path. Further, Greenwood's character, Dr. John, assists Dan in getting a position at a local nursing home as an orderly of sorts where Dan's abilities once again step into the light, but for what is possibly the first time in his life he is able to use these abilities to help others. Dan comes to realize that he can ease the pain and fear of those crossing over from this life into whatever comes next through his psychic-like powers. Dan, along with an unusually adept feline that has seemingly taken residence in the home, form a partnership in aiding patients and creating this sense of comfort that allows the previously referenced fear and pain to not seep so much into the proceedings. Dan maintains his sobriety and this calming lifestyle for eleven years bringing the audience into present day and during this time Dan also connects with another individual who "shines" just as he does-and maybe even more so-until the abilities of one Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) begin to pick up on individuals with abilities similar to hers, but who use them and crave them for nefarious purposes. Flanagan places our antagonist, Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), into the fray early in the film, but it's not until we see the extent of their desperation in what is a close second for the most terrifyingly haunting scene in the film that we realize the depths of their evil needs. From this point on, Abra and Dan are on a collision course with Rose and her gang of the "True Knot" with all roads leading back to the infamous Overlook.       

This is ultimately a story of redemption and more specifically-the story of Danny Torrance's redemption though. I've not read either The Shining or Doctor Sleep, but the noted differences between the source material and this new adaptation have seemed to be a large topic of conversation in the wake of the film's release. Such conversations have largely pertained to the fact that Doctor Sleep, the film, exists as a way to bridge the gap between Kubrick's version of The Shining and King's sequel which largely had a different tone and completely different ending that didn't involve the Overlook setting in the capacity it does in Flanagan's film. From a third-party, objective perspective Flanagan didn't have to serve as peacemaker between these two titans of their creative industries and there wasn't necessarily a need for there to be any kind of compromise at all as Flanagan likely could have made it easier on himself by making a more straightforward adaptation of King's sequel rather than adding in the ambitious goal of also making this a sequel to Kubrick's film that pays proper homage to the iconic imagery of the 1980 film and feelings said imagery and music elicits. And though some of the reason to incorporate such iconic elements from Kubrick's film undoubtedly had to do with marketing and pulling in audiences who might be anxious to see what happened to the characters after the events of that much revered classic it should also be noted that Flanagan is the sole screenwriter on this project meaning he has great respect for both King's written word and Kubrick's distinct take on the material. This was a task, ladies and gentleman and as presented in the final product, one that was not taken lightly.

As stated though, this is ultimately a story of redemption which-as outlined in the opening paragraph-is what Flanagan tends to do best in that he hooks himself into a certain aspect of a character and really dives in and investigates what it is about this facet of a given character that makes them both an interesting study as well as how it dictates their actions in situations the plot presents them with. What is fascinating about both Flanagan and McGregor's depiction of Dan Torrance here is the fact they first present him as this man who is lost due to the same affliction his father faced and that this affliction, this reliance on the drink and other substances to numb his acknowledgement of this gift/curse he's been given, is something that will inevitably repeat the ugly cycle his father experienced; he too would seemingly succumb to the madness eventually. As this is a redemptive story though, Flanagan takes great effort to be deliberate in his depiction of showing how Dan turns these habits and expectations upside down so that the character doesn't simply repeat the cycle, but forges a new that he hopefully conveys to Abra with some degree of success. When Dan and Abra first begin speaking about Rose and the "True Knot" he advises her to keep her head down, to not acknowledge them so as to stay off their radar despite what they might be doing to others. With the help of Abra's youthful optimism and untested moral compass though, along with the realization that he himself has only been able to turn his life around because of those who were willing to take a chance on him in good faith, McGregor's tortured Torrance is able to recognize his purpose and true role in this grander scheme of people who "shine" and therefore sees it as his duty to protect those unable to comprehend how they might protect themselves. Danny has grown accustomed to not only locking away the things that haunt his memories, but to locking himself away from the world or any hope of a meaningful existence. It is through the narrative and the arc of the character that Flanagan has re-written that Doctor Sleep not only engages in the fear and pain that Dan must confront, but it also instructs him on how to heal his own wounds-just as he's done for his patients at the nursing home; removing the fear and hesitation from the equation allows a peace and contentment that has never been allowed before, but most importantly it instills a purpose and reason for these abilities that previously only seemed to be present to reinforce that aforementioned fear and pain.         

Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) is a psychic being that leads the True Knot, a cult who feeds on equally powerful children.
© 2019 - Warner Bros. Pictures
As a piece of entertainment and not just a study in addiction, post-traumatic stress and the atonement of as much though, Doctor Sleep is also a sprawling epic of sorts. As previously stated, the film's runtime just crosses the two and half hour mark (meaning it's longer than Kubrick's film which falls just short of this) and within this runtime it's easy to break things down into sections, but this is not to the detriment of the film overall, but rather an acknowledgement of Flanagan's broader intentions. For the first hour we are buried in the new routine of Dan as he admirably is getting his life back on track while cross-cutting with the caravan of the "True Knots" that, aside from their leader in Rose, also features some prickly characters in the forms of Crow Daddy (Fargo and Westworld's Zahn McClarnon), Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind) and Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken of The Addams Family). While none of these characters have much to do outside of following Ferguson's lead as Rose and are more one trick ponies than they are fully fleshed-out individuals, not everything can be a miniseries where every character gets an hour devoted to their development and for the purpose this cult of a group needed to serve in the purpose of the story Flanagan is telling it feels what is done here is as much as was necessary. Is there something of a desire to know more about how the "True Knot" operates and what constitutes them bringing someone into the fold as opposed to consuming a soul to extend their own mortality? Sure, but the mystery around their code of conduct makes them all the more intriguing and all the more threatening. Ferguson is especially good though, and not only because she has the most resources to pull from in determining who this character is, but because-despite her mission being one of her own making and despite the actions she must take to make said mission a successful one-there is some empathy for the character if not out of how lost she seems, but strangely enough in the growing desperation she faces and the tragedy in the belief that their continued existence, which has solely become a quest to sustain that existence, is worth the amount of innocence they're plucking from the world.

McGregor, who has proven to be incredibly diverse at this point, excels in holding the weight of this feature on his shoulders not only by convincingly communicating all of what Flanagan has endowed the character with, but also in carrying what it takes to maintain this new path. The scenes in which Dan nears relapse are some of the scariest and most affecting moments in a film that features evil twins and a rotting corpse of a woman as prominent pieces of imagery. The same could be said for Curran who, at such a young age, might be forgiven for not fully grasping the extent of the themes and ideas the film is dealing with, but her Abra is both confident yet anxious in her abilities. Abra knows what she has to do and knows she has the power to accomplish whatever might be required of her, but the fear in the unknown is not without a presence and Curran effectively portrays this equally assured, but still brittle sense of being. And though the visual aesthetic, while aping some of Kubrick's signature stylings, is intent on matching the grandeur of both its existence and narrative ambition there are times that this doesn't necessarily feel as singular or as cinematic as it should. These elements largely come into play when Flanagan must rely on more imaginative imagery in order to depict things not possible in the real world and in the process of doing so builds a sequence that has neither the starkness of Kubrick's steady, long takes nor the grounded compassion of his own work. What such sequences are building to could certainly be seen as more interesting and creative aspects of this universe that King and therefore Flanagan have only just begun to expand on, but Doctor Sleep is most successful and in turn, most haunting when it doesn't fill in the blanks of this world inhabited by those who shine and those who seek, but instead leaves the details of how these superior beings execute their desires-no matter how honorable or devious-to the imagination. Flanagan understands this to a large degree and practices it more than he doesn't and it is this, along with the strong investment he creates for viewers to feel in the characters, which allows for the film to be a worthy follow-up to Kubrick's film. It is in Flanagan's ability to balance these aspects that Doctor Sleep is not only a satisfying continuation of The Shining, but a successful-and more importantly, a more meaningful-melding of Kubrick's aesthetic and King's stories.


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