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Doctor Sleep Review: Quality Horror Film, But No Kubrickian Masterpiece

Mike Flanagan is a talented horror filmmaker, but Stanley Kubrick, he is not. Tasked with adapting to the screen Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep, he proves yet again that he can make a modern horror film with the best of them. But is that enough when it comes to following in the footsteps of the all-time great, legendary director of The Shining?

As opposed to Kubrick’s film, this one comes with the blessing of author Stephen King. Famously unhappy with the 1980 cinematic adaptation of his book, King was more involved in the 90s television version helmed by Mick Garris. While I can’t speak to how closely Doctor Sleep hues to the source material, having never read it, apparently it did so enough to satisfy the bestselling author.

Our story begins with scenes from the original film recreated by new actors and others also set in that time period. I’ll say it is quite odd to see someone other than Shelley Duvall playing Danny Torrance’s mom. We eventually cut to a grown-up Danny, who is a drunken ne’er-do-well who gets into bar fights and sleeps with random women. He does what he can to avoid using his Shining abilities and to forget the traumatic events of his youth. He heads to the Northeast, drawn unknowingly by a connection to a young girl, Abra, who is quite powerful with similar abilities of her own. Also, pulled in by their connection with the young girl are the True Knot, a group of what I’d call soul vampires who suck the Shining talent from those with it to feed themselves and keep eternal life. They are led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) a fearsome villain who wouldn’t hesitate to kill a child if she could get their “Steam” from them. That’s the sort of soul that she and her ilk feed on l, and they are an ever-hungry lot.

Danny eventually meets up with Abra, and they go on the run from the True Knot to the only place more fearsome than they: The Overlook Hotel. Everything is set for a showdown on Danny’s old turf, and the viewer anxiously anticipates the outcome of this fight to the death battle, waiting to see who is left standing at the end of the movie.

Ewan McGregor does his usual average leading man shtick in the movie. The real standouts are the film’s villains. Rebecca Ferguson is evil personified as Rose the Hat. We never question for a second her willingness to slit the throat of anyone who gets between her and her “Steam”. Also, impressive is Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi. She is a “pusher” and can influence people’s thoughts, putting them to sleep or, in one particularly grisly case, making a person kill themselves. She quite strikingly resembles Chloe Grace Moretz, but is above her in acting talent, in my opinion, from this performance alone. Zahn McClarnon appears as Crow Daddy, an ultra-cool bad guy, Rose the Hat’s partner in crime and the kind of guy who looks like the lost member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers or Incubus. Jacob Tremblay also pops up, making a very random cameo in a scene that will churn your stomach with its viciousness.

Mike Flanagan sticks to the modern scary movie bag of tricks in his directing. Despite his claims in the media otherwise, the film is filled with many a loud noise and jump scare to get the moviegoer out of their seat. While all well and good, this doesn’t invoke the pervasive sense of dread that Kubrick did in the decades earlier The Shining with simpler, creepier means.

Doctor Sleep functions well on its own, but doesn’t stand up to comparisons with its superior predecessor film. Its best moments harken back to the 1980 Jack Nicholson starrer, whether it’s in the occasional music cue or the film’s third act setting. Enjoy it for what it is, a well made modern horror film. When it comes to Stephen King adaptations though, it is clearly not in the first tier but more fitting on a somewhat lower rung. Thankfully though, it’s well above the disastrous clunkers like 2003’s Dreamcatcher, which is always a good thing!

Recommended if you liked: The Shining, Oculus, Before I Wake

FINAL GRADE: B-

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