Doctor Sleep Movie Review
Despite lacking any formal degree, Doctor Sleep teaches you two things: Ewan McGregor is not good at playing a possessed person, and when a practiced horror director is paired with Stephen King, magic—and nightmares—can happen.
Doctor Sleep, the new horror-drama from Mike Flanagan (Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald’s Game, and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House) and more notably the sequel to The Shining, is a two-and-a-half-hour opus, a beautifully dark and oft mesmerizing return to King’s twisted world. It’s an exploration of unimaginable trauma, rediscovery, and recovery—and as is often the case with King’s work, a battle against evil.
Flanagan, whose horror pedigree is second to none at this stage, had the unenviable task of making a sequel to both the book The Shining and Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, a movie everyone except Stephen King loves. The end result is a near perfect hybrid that feels like a true sequel and yet simultaneously is its own entity, unique in both story and design—not just in contrast to Kubrick’s film but to horror movies in general.
Doctor Sleep isn’t the scariest movie around—it’s not really scary at all—and yet Flanagan creates a chilling atmosphere, one that from the first minute is clearly building toward something nasty and threatening, even as the plot meanders between multiple locations and characters who each drum to their own beat. Doctor Sleep isn’t scary, but it is ominous, the constant sense of foreboding the driving force.
Flanagan is aided by a terrific cast. McGregor, aside from one cheesy moment, is excellent as an adult Danny, a man who, after his frightening experiences at the Overlook Hotel as a child, has attempted to drown the trauma in drugs and alcohol. Thirteen-year-old Kyliegh Curran is arguably better, her turn as a “new” Danny only more powerful and more confident a bolt of electricity in every scene.
But it’s Rebecca Ferguson who steals the show as the insidious Rose the Hat, a soul-sucking creature with only the desire to consume. I found myself watching and admiring her performance in a way I rarely do when watching movies—the way she quietly assumed authority in every scene, how she managed to find just the right expression to exude comfort and sexiness and ruthlessness simultaneously, or even, as she sat atop her bus in the middle of the woods reaching out for her next victims, would position her body at perfect angles, a naturally deliberate pose representing her linear, singular philosophy toward life.
Interestingly, Doctor Sleep is least effective when Flanagan veers closest to The Shining, and specifically when he returns to the Overlook Hotel (which, notably, was destroyed at the end of King’s first book, but not in the movie). This time around, the Overlook Hotel is much less frightening, its evil inhabitants less psychologically terrifying. Flanagan can’t seem to help himself by flashing back to Kubrick’s movie a few too many times—while unfortunately turning the ghosts into your stereotypical monsters that have been done a dozen times over.
The climax, as a result, isn’t quite as powerful as you’d expect given the rest of the movie.
Doctor Sleep has a few minor issues, but it’s a wonderfully made, boldly directed film that is among the year’s best.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.