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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Doctor Sleep

October 30th, 2019 by Mark McCann Comments

Doctor Sleep (15)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson & Carel Struycken
Directed by: Mike Flanagan
Running time: 2h 31mins

Years following the events of The Shining, a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers to his as his and tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers in an attempt to become immortal.

While the Shining sits on my bookshelf, I’ve yet to read it. Perhaps it’s because of the vividness of Kubrick’s adaptation, and the knowledge that Stephen King famously disliked it. It’s often the case with King adaptations that the apple falls far from the tree (‘It’ springs to mind,) but with Doctor Sleep, this may be deliberately the case.

To preface, I haven’t read the book in this case either. Aficionados would be better placed to judge it on the comparisons/contrasts. On watching the film, I think this may have been a good thing. Here’s why: The first thing of note is Doctor Sleep feels unapologetically like a direct continuation of Kubrick’s vision of The Shining. The actors picked to play characters from a film set almost 30 years previous are strikingly accurate. From Carl Lumby’s Dick Halloran to Alex Essoe’s Wendy Torrance, the connective tissue to the 80s horror classic is painstakingly maintained. These actors stand out. Retracing roles inherited from their predecessors, they do a great job.

McGregor in the main role of an adult Danny Torrance is subdued, second string to the plot and pacing. Similarly, Rebecca Ferguson plays a very pedestrian villain. There’s nothing flamboyant in her performance, and for my money, this adds to the eeriness and awfulness when she does do something of note.

Which is the key to this film’s quality and, indeed, the King Formula in general: Build characters – allow the readers to know them – pull their world apart.

The pacing here too is excellent.

Director Mike Flanagan, not long off of The Haunting of Hill House, along with some other well-crafted horrors, takes his time, allows an organic flow, perforated with small moments designed to jar the watcher, but never disrupt the tight character build.

What could easily have been a 6-part HBO series or more, is compacted nicely into a 2 1/2 hour run-time. All of the characters and supports from Zahn McLarnon’s Crow Daddy and Emily Alyn Lynd’s Snake-Bite Andi, to Cliff Curtis Billy Freeman feel complete. Kyliegh Curran proves herself as one to watch as Abra Stone, giving a confident performance with plenty of scope for development in her young career.

Another element of note is the score by the Newton Brothers. Echoing Kubrick’s filmic source, they provide a discomforting, throbbing intensity.

Flanagan’s plot, it could be argued, is formulaic, mixing elements of cat and mouse with the new vampirism made famous by Catherine Bigelow’s Near Dark, but there’s enough switcheroos and fine character work – not to mention small-town charm, punctured by cosmic horror and a low thumping dread crossing mid-western landscapes – to make this film a worthy sequel.

To the Shining film, not the novel, Doctor Sleep may also be its own beast, distinct from prose source. It may appease both camps. As a horror aficionado, I found it a creeping, well-constructed and haunting film. Cliché at times, it over-comes those obvious facets with its depth and quality.

4 out of 5 Nerds

I came here in a time machine from the 1980s. The time machine was called childhood. I'm getting back there at all costs! (I also live, love, write, lift & pet cats wherever I may find them.)