Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining has been regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all-time. Loosely based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name, Kubrick’s vision focused more on the psychological thrills of the story, challenging the viewers to question what they saw was real or illusion. The movie as an adaptation has been vehemently opposed by fans of the book, however, the film on its own is nothing short of a directorial masterpiece.
Doctor Sleep, directed by Mike Flanagan (Hush, Gerald’s Game), is not a movie of the same ilk as The Shining, but it was a crowning achievement in its own right. The movie follows an older Dan Torrance (portrayed by Ewan McGregor) who has fallen in the same vice as his late father: alcoholism. The drinking suppresses his ability “to shine”, as he sees it more as a curse than a gift. He moves to a small town where he befriends Billy Freeman (portrayed by Cliff Curtis), who eventually becomes his AA sponsor and employer.
Meanwhile, there is a cult known as True Knot, a group of quasi-immortal beings who feed off “steam” (foggy emissions given off at the moment of death) from children who possess the shine. The leader of this cult, Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson), uses her telepathic abilities to find these children in order to hunt them down and feast on them. One child, Abra Stone (played by Kyliegh Curran) is one of the strongest children to possess “the shine” and is able to telepathically enter the mind of Rose and witness her actions. She also connects with Dan, tethered together through “the shine”. What ensues is a telepathic chase between these two opposing forces, trying to outthink (or our trap) the other.
The success rate for movies adapted from Stephen King’s novels is abysmal at best. The reason for this is King explores extremely complex supernatural concepts that don’t typically translate well on the visual mediums. Doctor Sleep, conceptually, is one of King’s boldest explorations, however, Mike Flanagan delivered one of the stronger King adaptations to date. He was able to illustrate telepathy in way that didn’t come off flimsy, as most of King’s movies do (see the 1990 version of It if you need proof).
Aside from Flanagan’s meticulous direction, the casting was also a major success. Ewan McGregor shows great depth in portraying such a tormented character, battling both literal and figurative darkness. Kyliegh Curran brought maturity to the character of Abra. Like all of King’s kid characters with special abilities, it takes a special kind of acting from a young actor/actress to pull it off, and she did so beautifully. The true standout performance though was by Rebecca Ferguson. Rose the Hat is an extremely layered character, a villainous presence that is both beautiful and vile at the same time. Ferguson provides an allure, drawing the viewers in as well as her prey in the movie. She is as engaging as she is sinister, an imbalance that she balances masterfully.
I appreciate the care Flanagan had when making this film. He somehow stayed true to the novel as well as paid homage to Kubrick’s film. He was able to connect both films beautifully, but not in an overpowering way, but almost like “the shine”, tethered loosely from one generation to another. Some shine, some don’t, but thankfully, this movie did.