As if crafting a sequel to The Shining wasn’t daunting enough for Stephen King, imagine being in writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan’s shoes with Doctor Sleep. Flanagan found himself creating not only a sequel to the Kubrick classic, but also had to deliver an adaptation of a book sequel that exists in its own universe which blatantly ignores Kubrick’s film.
Considering Flanagan’s track record — Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, The Haunting of Hill House, and another King adaptation, Gerald’s Game — I had faith the film was in good hands. And not only does Flanagan execute one of the best King adaptations ever, it’s a fantastic Dark Tower companion as well.
It’s been 39 years since the horrific events played out for Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) at the Overlook Hotel. But in the ultimate case of like-father-like-son, Danny is fighting his own demons brought on by his father’s alcoholism and the passing of his mother, Wendy (Alex Essoe).
Ka comes calling as Danny needs to shine again when Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) requests his help. Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), and the rest of the True Knot, are on the hunt, with members of the Knot able to feed on those who “shine.” With Abra being the strongest Rose has ever encountered. Now, the race is on to save Abra and Danny, leading to the ultimate showdown only Danny can stage.
Filled with fantastic performances — particularly Ferguson and Curran — spectacular cinematography, and the year’s creepiest soundtrack, Doctor Sleep is the King adaptation we’ve been waiting for. With a tall order of some admittedly perfect films to choose from — The Shawshank Redemption, Stand By Me, Misery, The Mist — this is officially my favorite and it’s absolutely one of the best.
Don’t let the 151-minute runtime worry you either, the film soars along to the climax at a breathless pace. A few Flanagan regulars make their way in, with Carel Struycken (Gerald’s Game’s “Moonlight Man”) and Henry Thomas filling in for Jack Nicholson. Ferguson stands out as a chilling King villain.
While the MCU may have a huge head start on cinematic universes, between Doctor Sleep and Pet Sematary, I’m left scratching my head as to how Sony wound up so haphazardly developing their Dark Tower film. So many references abound in Doctor Sleep. There was an opportunity for at least one that wasn’t taken advantage of. Not sure if Flanagan felt it would have been one too many, but at one point, I leaned over to my friend and whispered, “If that train is named ‘Charlie,’ I’m going to lose my mind.” Alas, it wasn’t meant to be.
There’s honestly only so much gushing I can do here. Flanagan is a genre master and continues to get better, and even more ambitious with each outing. Considering he’s currently adapting a new Taming of the Shrew in the form of Netflix’s Haunting of Bly Manor (AKA the second season of Hill House), I can’t even imagine how fantastic it will be. For now, he’s got a long resume of creepfests under his belt, and I’ll definitely be showing Doctor Sleep some love come year end voting with the Utah Film Critics Association. As the marketing says, “Dare to go back,” you’ll be glad they did.