Mike Flanagan’s new film “Doctor Sleep” is an eclectic sequel sandwiched between two contrasting sources of inspiration: Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick. While officially based on King’s novel of the same name which is a sequel to his famous horror novel “The Shining”, the movie also intends to be a sequel to Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of “The Shining”, and it is fun and interesting to see how the movie attempts its tricky artistic reconciliation between two very different masters.
The story starts at the time point not long after what happened at the end of Kubrick’s film. While he and his mother luckily escaped from the Overlook Hotel and his father’s murderous madness boosted by that evil haunted place, young Danny Torrence, played by Roger Dale Floyd, still finds himself terrorized by nightmares and ghosts, and then he is visited by Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), the former chef of the Overlook Hotel who previously shared with Danny some knowledge on their common supernatural ability called ‘The Shining’. Although he is dead at present, Hallorann teaches Danny how to handle those malevolent ghosts frequently harassing him, and Danny’s daily life with his mother consequently becomes more uneventful than before.
However, after around three decades, Danny, now played by Ewan McGregor, is turned into a guy about to hit the bottom of his addiction as struggling with his personal demons. At one point, he is befuddled to wake up right next to the unconscious body of a young woman he encountered during another wild night of booze and drug, and he certainly feels lousy as stealing some money from her wallet and then leaving her alone with her little child.
Fortunately, when he later happens to tumble into a small town in New Hampshire, Danny meets a couple of local guys willing to help him. When he happens to come across Danny, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) instinctively discerns that Danny really needs help, and he helps Danny settle in the town in addition to bringing him to a local AA meeting. Thanks to the kind support from Freeman and Dr. John Dalton (Bruce Greenwood), Danny comes to recover step by step while working in a local hospice, where he is subsequently nicknamed ‘Doctor Sleep’ as often comforting those dying patients during the last minutes of their lives in his own special way.
Meanwhile, Danny senses someone who has the same supernatural ability out there, and that person in question is a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). Although she lives with her parents in a suburban neighborhood a bit far from where Danny currently resides, they can often correspond with each other thanks to their common supernatural ability, and she turns out to be more powerful than him as she grows up year by year.
Unfortunately, the growing presence of Abra’s immense power comes to attract the attention of a group of dangerous entities led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). For maintaining their nearly immortal status, they sometimes track down and then feed on young people who ‘shine’, and there is a chilling and disturbing sequence where they kidnap their latest victim and then commit unspeakable things for eating as much as they can.
After accidentally detecting Rose the Hat and her fellow evil entities during that horrific moment, Abra seeks help from Danny, who is initially reluctant but eventually agrees to help her. As he tries to help and protect her as much as he can, his dark past comes back to him along with his supernatural ability, and it is not much of a spoiler to tell you that he subsequently returns to the Overlook Hotel along with Abra for their final confrontation with Rose the Hat.
Although it feels a bit too long and slow as slowly establishing its main characters during its first half, the movie steadily accumulates its narrative momentum, and Flanagan, who has constantly impressed me since he drew my attention for the first time with “Oculus” (2013), provides us a series of effective moments of horror without resorting to cheap shocks. As recently shown from his Netflix supernatural horror series “The Haunting of Hill House”, he knows how to engage and thrill us via good mood and storytelling, and I particularly enjoyed how deftly he balances his film between King and Kubrick with his own stylish touches. The overall result is a little overwrought at times, but, if you are a fan of both “The Shining” and its movie version like me, you will constantly be amused by heaps of small and big details strewn throughout the film.
Flanagan also draws good performances from his main cast members. While Ewan McGregor humbly holds the center, Kyliegh Curan is spirited and feisty as required, and the other notable cast members including Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Jacob Tremblay, and Rebecca Ferguson are well-cast in their respective roles. In case of Ferguson, she plays her seductive but lethal character with charm and gusto, and her deliciously diabolical moments in the film surely remind me that horror films are as good as their villains.
In conclusion, “Doctor Sleep” is not something as great and memorable as its predecessor, but it is still a competent piece of work packed with goodies to be savored, and its rather long running time (152 minutes) went by faster than I expected during my viewing. Sure, it is less perfect than its predecessor, but it distinguishes itself well on the whole as paying homage to both King and Kubrick as demanded, and I like that.