Review: Doctor Sleep

Score: B+

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis

Running Time: 151 Minutes

Rated: R

That Doctor Sleep is even passable is amazing. That it's quite good is a small miracle. The Shining is one of the most iconic and celebrated horror movies of the last 40 years, even though it got mixed reviews at the time and Stephen King famously hated it. In adapting King's follow-up novel while remaining reverent of Stanley Kubrick's classic film, writer-director Mike Flanagan had to walk an extremely fine line. But the man has been knocking it out of the park for years now, including Gerald's Game, one of the very best King adaptations.

Ewan McGregor plays the adult Dan Torrance, coping with the unimaginable trauma of seeing your father try to kill you and your mom while possessed by the spirit of an evil hotel. That would take a lot of therapy to even be a functional adult, but Dan chose his dad's perennial demon: alcohol. For the first half-hour, the film plays more like another shockingly good sequel: T2 Trainspotting. But the film also spends too much time setting up the cult led by Rose (Rebecca Ferguson) that feeds on people that shine, and Abra, an extremely powerful young girl. But once the film leaps ahead eight years, with a now-sober Dan and a teenage Abra, it's thrilling and terrifying.

Structurally, Doctor Sleep couldn't be more different from The Shining. It's a lot more episodic and modern than the slow-burn mood piece of the original. But like Kubrick, Flanagan gets that this is a film about addiction and abuse, and the demonic powers are just a manifestation of that. One seen featuring Jacob Tremblay (Good Boys) is particularly upsetting.

Flanagan also makes a crucial decision that was likely dictated by budget, but feels like a radical artistic choice: Instead of re-purposing old footage, or CGI de-aging or compositing for flashbacks, he simply casts actors who resemble Shelley Duvall, Jack Nicholson and Danny Lloyd. It's actually less distracting and more effective than any of those other options.

McGregor is good as usual, but it's the ladies who really stand out. Rebecca Ferguson plays Rose with the right mix of seductiveness and menace, and Kyliegh Curran handles her first major role with the polish of a veteran actor, alternately vulnerable and powerful with a dark streak. And I'm always happy to see Cliff Curtis (Hobbs & Shaw) and Zahn McClarnon (Westworld) on my screen.

It may be a week late, but Doctor Sleep is the scary movie we deserved for Halloween.


About Kip Mooney

Kip Mooney
Like many film critics born during and after the 1980s, my hero is Roger Ebert. The man was already the best critic in the nation when he won the Pulitzer in 1975, but his indomitable spirit during and after his recent battle with cancer keeps me coming back to read not only his reviews but his insightful commentary on the everyday. But enough about a guy you know a lot about. I knew I was going to be a film critic—some would say a snob—in middle school, when I had to voraciously defend my position that The Royal Tenenbaums was only a million times better than Adam Sandler’s remake of Mr. Deeds. From then on, I would seek out Wes Anderson’s films and avoid Sandler’s like the plague. Still, I like to think of myself as a populist, and I’ll be just as likely to see the next superhero movie as the next Sundance sensation. The thing I most deplore in a movie is laziness. I’d much rather see movies with big ambitions try and fail than movies with no ambitions succeed at simply existing. I’m also a big advocate of fun-bad movies like The Room and most of Nicolas Cage’s work. In the past, I’ve written for The Dallas Morning News and the North Texas Daily, which I edited for a semester. I also contributed to Dallas-based Pegasus News, which in the circle of life, is now part of The Dallas Morning News, where I got my big break in 2007. Eventually, I’d love to write and talk about film full-time, but until that’s a viable career option, I work as an auditor for Wells Fargo. I hope to one day meet my hero, go to the Toronto International Film Festival, and compete on Jeopardy. Until then, I’m excited to share my love of film with you.