The long awaited sequel to Stanley Kubric’s genre defying film The Shining is finally here. The sequel picks up with an adult Danny Torrance played by Ewan McGregor dealing with being an alcoholic still cursed with his Shining gift, new character Rose The Hat played by Rebecca Ferguson is recruiting people with powers and feasting on their essence to prolong the life of her family. When the two collide Danny must outwit Rose to save Abra Stone, a little girl with the most powerful Shining that has ever been seen. The film acts as more of a character study than a sequel per se and while it pulses with the same beats as a horror movie, it feels like something else, something special. There is a focus on character and motivation that when everything comes to a head you are clearly in one camp or the other and understand how both parties came to this point.
Several decades after the events of The Shining, Danny Torrance is homeless, living on the streets trying to get sober and put his life together. Everytime he tried, the Shining sets back in and destroys whatever semblance of a life he has tried to assemble. On the other side of the country Rose The Hat, a powerful woman who can manipulate people into doing her will has been living on the down low with her family of freaks when they start running out of essence, she must venture out into the world and recruit new members of the family and drain the essence out of other gifted people in order to prolong their own lives. When Danny is introduced via psychic powers to Abra (Kyliegh Curran) he quickly discovers that she is the most powerful person with the Shining he has encountered. Rose The Hat also picks up on Abra’s power and sets off to trap her and live off her essence.
The film moves at quite a slower pace than traditional horror films, there is a lot of time take to establish who Danny is now, what happened to him immediately after the events at the Overlook hotel and what happened in the subsequent years to get him to this stage in his life. The story is interwoven into the main plot via a series of detailed flashbacks making it an integral part of the story. On the other side of things Rose The Hat is given a lot of back story and screen time into her characters origins, showcasing her motivations and why she is doing what she is. The film also explores Abra’s origins from an early birthday party to the confused coming of age teen who has tried squandering her powers. The film runs for 2 and a half hours and really allows for the story to breathe. The final act of the film takes place in the Overlook hotel and while this feels like a nostalgic cash in, it is used well and makes sense to the part of the story for the events that happen there.
Performance wise McGregor is fantastic as the adult version of Danny. HE is a broke and confused man hurt by the world and on the road to redemption that is constantly being railroaded by his drinking. You can see glimpses of the caring and fun innocent child that has been lost in his eyes at several points during the film. This is also amplified anytime he has a scene with Carl Lumbly playing the ghost of Dick Hallorann from the Shining film. Ferguson is mesmerising as Rose, she is both incredibly inviting and seems caring and can turn it around in a second to be intimidating and powerful. There is a fantastic scene in a shopping centre where she goes head to head with Abra via a psychic link. The point when she realises just how big Abra’s powers are and that there is a slim chance that she may lose is a joy to watch played out on screen. Curran’s portrayal of Abra is also scene stealing as she teeters between doe eyed teenager and powerful being who can deceive and run on her own. Her connection with Danny is strong and their chemistry on screen together is fantastic, particularly a scene in the park in which Danny states “It’ 2019, a man sitting on a park bench with a little girl will draw attention and questions”.
Doctor Sleep is the surprise sequel that noone really asked for that delivers the most solid Stephen King adaptation since It Chapter One. While we have been inundated with King films and TV shows, with no signs of slowing down anytime soon, this film manages to carve out a special place acting as more of a character study than a set horror piece dependent on a place to keep things contained. Outstanding performances from the cast and masterful direction from veteran Mike Flanagan ensure that everything plays out perfectly. If all sequels had this level of quality, the franchise space would be much better off.
Doctor Sleep is in cinemas now.
Review by Alaisdair Leith