“The world’s a hungry place.”
What does it mean to be magical?
Do you have to be able to communicate with others telepathically to be considered magic? Or is being able to face your childhood fears and attempt to overcome them its own sort of magic?
Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep has some interesting answers for these questions, among others. In doing so, Flanagan has taken what could have been a cash-in on an iconic film and turned it into something of a reckoning. Doctor Sleep is probably not the movie you think it is; it’s less of a direct sequel to The Shining and more of a successor, a companion piece. That’s a very good thing.
Doctor Sleep tells the story of Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), whose father took an axe to his childhood while consumed by madness in the Overlook Hotel years ago. Now relying on alcohol due to his trauma, Dan hits rock bottom and decides to change.
He finds himself in New Hampshire working at a hospice, where he puts his “shine” to use easing dying patients and helping them cross over, earning the titular title of Doctor Sleep. One day, Dan starts receiving messages from Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with “the shining,” and sets off a chain of events that will take him across the country while combating sinister beings known as the True Knot, led by the enigmatic Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).
Doctor Sleep is a film that doesn’t even try to be like The Shining. Even when it returns to familiar locations and reintroduces us to familiar faces, you can tell that Flanagan is attempting to do something different. This is a very strange film, with plenty of magic powers and supernatural to be found. It’s also a terrifically exciting one.
From the outset, Stephen King fans knew that Flanagan would have to change parts of the source material to match Stanley Kubrick’s film. Trying to be a successor to Kubrick’s masterfully cold and psychological version of King’s iconic novel while also remaining faithful to this new source material was a towering challenge from the start, but Flanagan pulls it off tremendously.
This film tackles the source material in interesting ways and somehow manages to give it both King’s pervasive sense of empathy and heart, while also maintaining the raw psychological energy of Kubrick’s film. Flanagan proves himself to be one of the greatest horror directors working today by pulling off this balancing act, while still letting his own voice shine through.
He also continues to get great performances out of his actors. Ewan McGregor is utterly convincing as Dan, giving us a look at a man who is tormented by his past and burdened by abilities that some would literally kill for. He’s a completely compelling protagonist. Kyleigh Curran is also sure to be a favorite as the headstrong and brave Abra, giving us one of the better child performances of the year.
The real knockout here, however, is Rebecca Ferguson’s deliciously evil Rose the Hat. Ferguson approaches the role with charm, seduction, and menace, while also making sure she isn’t entirely unsympathetic. It’s a fantastic upgrade to the character from King’s pages and is sure to be iconic.
It’s also worth praising Doctor Sleep’s atmosphere, which is masterfully enhanced by some inventive cinematography and a bone-chilling score. And when you hear that familiar theme again, it’s enough to make you cheer.
Flanagan has delivered a truly special film here. Doctor Sleep manages to be both entertaining and profound, otherworldly yet grounded. By imbuing the source material with a more meditative atmosphere, Flanagan elevates an already great novel to a higher tier.
So, what is magic really? According to Doctor Sleep, it can be something as small as knocking on a friend’s door and having the courage to ask for help. The world of this film is full of magic, in turn creating a magical film. Doctor Sleep is one of the best Stephen King adaptations in recent years, and perhaps among the best ever.
Simply put, it shines.
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Written by: Stephen King, Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis