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Review: Doctor Sleep – “A smart, chilling and emotional love letter to the work of both Kubrick and King”

Doctor Sleep is not an easy adaptation to make, given the mix of Stephen King’s novel, on which the film is based, and the iconic status of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the first book, The Shining. Yet writer/director Mike Flanagan somehow pulls it off, blending the visual spectacle of Kubrick and the masterful storytelling of King into one impressive horror film that also still manages to capture his own unique style and vision.

The film sees young Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) all grown up and battling his own inner demons right alongside the ones who’ve haunted him since that ill-fated stay at the Overlook Hotel. He’s struggling with his alcoholism and trying desperately to live a normal life, but he can’t hide forever. After all, some demons cannot be squirrelled away and buried – much as he’d like them to – and sooner or later he will have to face up to the trauma of his childhood.

Where The Shining largely opted for all-out mania and horror visuals, Doctor Sleep takes a slightly different tactic, exploring in far more detail the intimacies of the different characters’ flaws and personal struggles. The film delves deeply into the mindsets of both the good and bad characters and then sends them all on a perilous journey full of fear and courage.

Ewan McGregor leads this impressive cast incredibly well, bringing the subtlety and intensity needed to portray an adult Dan Torrance. There is more of a focus on Dan’s alcoholism and that really works within the story. Dan is both alarmingly destructive and incredibly vulnerable as he makes contact with his new young charge, Abra, a girl who also possesses the shining but nobody to talk to about it. Newcomer Kyliegh Curran is really exciting to watch in the role, especially as so much is demanded of her over the course of the film, and she and McGregor are great together.

Rebecca Ferguson is similarly impressive. Her take on Rose the Hat, the leader of a group called The True Knot, is absolutely chilling. Members of The True Knot live a very long time by feeding off the pain of children who possess the shining and, as she is often the one to lure these children to their deaths with charm and a smile, it’s perhaps no surprise that many consider Rose to be one of King’s most sinister creations. Unfortunately, Ferguson switches between accents so much it gets rather distracting – but the intensity of her otherwise flawless performance brings you right back into the horror of it all.

Though the violence in the film is necessary – so much of King’s horror is rooted in the evil of humans, after all – the film does linger a little too long on one particularly unpleasant scene that is made all the more horrific because it feels so incredibly realistic.

Fans of Flanagan’s work on The Haunting of Hill House will surely enjoy what he’s done with Doctor Sleep. There are some utterly intoxicating visuals and the camera work is just sublime, especially as reality is bent and both Dan and Abra start to really explore the extent of their abilities. Overall, the film is a smart, chilling and emotional love letter to the work of both Kubrick and King that will surely satisfy old and new fans of the genre.

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