Doctor Sleep Review
Mike Flanagan perfectly marries Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick with 'Doctor Sleep.'
Release Date: November 8, 2019
MPAA Rating: R
Years following the events of “The Shining,” a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as he tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Screenwriters: Mike Flanagan, Stephen King
Producers: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy
Cast: Ewan McGregor (Dan Torrance), Rebecca Ferguson (Rose the Hat), Kyliegh Curran (Abra Stone), Carl Lumbly (Dick Hallorann), Alex Essoe (Wendy Torrance), Zahn McClarnon (Crow Daddy), Emily Alyn Lind (Snakebite Andi), Carel Struycken (Grampa Flick), Bruce Greenwood (Dr. John), Cliff Curtis (Billy Freeman), Hnery Thomas (Jack Torrance), Jacob Tremblay (Bradley Trevor)
Editor: Mike Flanagan
Cinematographer: Michael Fimognari
Production Designer: Maher Ahmad
Casting Directors: Anne McCarthy, Kellie Roy
Music Score: The Newton Brothers
Legendary writer Stephen King has made no bones about hating Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaption of his novel The Shining. But, after seeing what modern master of horror Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil) did with his “unfilmable” Gerald’s Game last year, King seems to have found a writer/director that he trusts to adapt his sequel novel Doctor Sleep. And Flanagan may have created the olive branch that bridges the chasm between King and Kubrick.
Doctor Sleep follows the adult Danny Torrance, now going by Dan (Ewan McGregor from Christopher Robin and T2 Trainspotting), as he tries to fight the demons that stem from his memories of the past and his seemingly inherited alcoholism. And he seems to be doing well, having settled in a small New Hampshire town. He can still shine, though, and he manages to psychically contact with a little girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran from I Can I Will I Did) whose powers are greater than his own.
Abra has also attracted the attention of a group of evil psychic criminals led by a woman named Rose the Hat (Life’s Rebecca Ferguson) that feeds on the essence of children with powers in order to remain immortal. Dan agrees to help Abra fight Rose and her band of villains, but the fight will bring him to a place that is all too familiar. Minor spoiler for those who have not seen the Doctor Sleep trailer or heard anything at all about the movie: it’s the Overlook Hotel.
It’s clear from Doctor Sleep that Mike Flanagan has immense love and respect for Kubrick’s The Shining. But he also has immense love and respect for Stephen King’s ambitious and meticulous storytelling. This adaptation manages to stay faithful to both King’s story and Kubrick’s visual palette, bridging a gap that has stood wide for almost forty years.
In many ways, Doctor Sleep follows the typical Stephen King arc of a “good” group of people having to thwart and fend off a “bad” group of people. But Doctor Sleep does it with characters that audiences already know and love. Dan, having seemingly conquered his own demons, takes on the role of his mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly from A Cure for Wellness) as he helps Abra navigate the pros and cons of her powers. And, as horrified as he is, he knows that the only way to help Abra is to confront the sins of his father at The Overlook. It’s powerful stuff, and Flanagan nails it.
Stephen King is not the only person who was offended by Kubrick’s The Shining. There’s a huge contingent of “the book is better” people out there. Hopefully, Doctor Sleep will help smooth the tensions between the camps, because as unfaithful as it may be, Kubrick’s The Shining is essential cinema. And so is Doctor Sleep.
As briefly mentioned earlier, Mike Flanagan goes to great lengths to honor Kubrick’s visual style in Doctor Sleep. Flanagan approached the Kubrick estate and was granted access to the plans and schematics for his The Shining sets, and The Overlook was meticulously reconstructed and aged forty years. Flanagan’s homage does not stop with the sets, though. He and cinematographer Michael Fimognari (who, in addition to working on just about all of Flanagan’s movies, also shot Before I Fall and The Lazarus Effect) duplicate shots and sequences almost exactly, but with Dan in place of his father. This not only pays tribute to Kubrick’s genius filmmaking, but also illustrates the powerful connection between Dan, Jack, and The Overlook that has spanned thousands of miles and decades of time.
The entire look and feel of Doctor Sleep takes a page out of Kubrick’s playbook, with Fimognari’s photography using Kubrick staples like subject center framing and meticulously slow camera movement to make it feel like a true sequel. Even Flanagan’s inspired new casting of characters from The Shining, particularly his use of Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes) as Wendy Torrance, is spot-on. It’s much better than going the Rogue One digital hologram route. Flanagan keeps the spirit of Kubrick’s vision alive while still injecting his own personal touch into the film.
Score and Soundtrack
The music is another aspect of Doctor Sleep that recalls The Shining. The score was done by frequent Flanagan collaborators/Hans Zimmer apprentices Andy Grush and Taylor Newton Stewart, collectively known as The Newton Brothers (who have also scored The Bye Bye Man and Open Water 3: Cage Dive). Bit it’s actually a little surprising that The Shining composer Wendy Carlos isn’t given a credit of some sort, since quite a bit of the score, most notably the sections that take place at The Overlook, seems to quote freely from the original Moog-soaked soundtrack.
The Newton Brothers do put their own mark on things, though. They used non-traditional instruments, things like a massive hurdy-gurdy and the world’s largest wind harp, to create their dread-inducing soundscapes. The unique instrumentation was run through new-fangled processors and modular synthesizers to make the environmental melodies sound electronic. It all adds up to one creepy sounding score that feels both retro and modern. It’s just about perfect for the kind of movie that Doctor Sleep is.
If there’s one dig on Doctor Sleep, it’s that it isn’t scary enough (and that’s a minor dig). Sure, Rose the Hat and her cohorts are terrifying antagonists, but they’re not used in a way that is truly scary. They’re threatening without actually being a real threat (aside from one disturbing scene where they abduct a young little league star played by Room’s Jacob Tremblay). Thankfully, there are no jump scares, so the movie breathes with emotion instead of manufacturing fake horror. But it also doesn’t have the same claustrophobic tension as The Shining. Doctor Sleep is still a terrific movie, it’s just not very terrifying. And that’s an anomaly for both Mike Flanagan and Stephen King.