Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has been dealing with ghosts and memories of his homicidal father at the Overlook Hotel all his life. As a child he was visited by the ghost of Overlook Hotel chef Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who taught Danny how to construct boxes in his mind to trap the ghosts so they couldn’t try to possess him anymore. Now an adult, Danny is a homeless alcoholic in need of a new start. Riding a bus to a small town, Danny meets Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). Billy recognizes Danny as a fellow alcoholic, gives him a job in the city park, becomes his AA sponsor and is a reference to get him an apartment. Danny soon begins work as an orderly in a hospice and is tagged with the nickname Doctor Sleep as he comforts a patient on the edge of death. In Danny’s apartment there’s a wall painted with chalkboard paint by a previous tenant. One morning, Danny sees a message he didn’t write saying “morning.” The message is from a teenage girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). Abra has “the shine” like Danny, only she’s much more powerful. Her ability attracts the attention of a cult of called the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). The True Knot feed off the shine, they call it steam, given off by those with the gift as they die. The True Knot travel the country, abducting young people with the gift, torturing them to purify the steam, and absorb it to prolong their lives. They also save some of the steam in metal cannisters to feed on later. It’s getting more difficult to find powerful possessors of steam and the True Knot is beginning to age and die. Abra is so powerful, Rose believes she could feed her cult for a very long time. Abra gets in touch with Danny, in person, and he intends to protect her from the True Knot, even if that means returning to the cursed Overlook Hotel.
Is it an absolute necessity to have seen or be familiar with “The Shining” to enjoy “Doctor Sleep?” No, however it would help as this follow up makes references to, and contains characters from, the 1980 film that might cause some confusion to the uninitiated. Does “Doctor Sleep” stand on its own? Yes, it does. Director Mike Flanagan had the unenviable task of taking elements of Stanley Kubrick’s classic, that changed things from Stephen King’s novel, and merge them into a new film made almost 40 years later and based on another of King’s books. He also had to make King happy in the process, something Kubrick didn’t do. “Doctor Sleep” may be the best example of artistic juggling with running chainsaws in history.
The reverence for “The Shining” on display in “Doctor Sleep” might be called slavish by some. However, it’s necessary to give proper credit to a film that wasn’t popular or successful when it was released but has gained a following and respect over the years. I watched “The Shining” the night before seeing “Doctor Sleep” and was surprised by how much I liked it. Sure, Jack Nicholson comes off as very smarmy right off the bat, and Shelly Duvall, who didn’t get along with Kubrick, performed the role of Wendy like she was in a high school production of “Oklahoma,” but the tone of the film, the performance of Danny Lloyd as Danny Torrance, and the explosive and violent final act make “The Shining” a one-of-a-kind horror/thriller. “Doctor Sleep” takes the base built by the original film and builds an exciting and tense haunted house upon it.
Rebecca Ferguson is a terrific villain as Rose the Hat. Her beauty and lilting accent lull the innocent into her trap. She and her cult of shine vampires are a roving band of death and greed, finding those that shine and sucking them dry in the most vulgar and painful way. Ferguson’s charisma lights up the screen so that, despite her being the leader of the bad guys, you miss her when she’s not featured. You want to see her twirl her metaphorical mustache as she plots, schemes and carries out her diabolical plans.
Ewan McGregor’s Danny Torrance is a pitiful sight when we meet the adult version. He’s a drunk, getting in bar fights, going home with women he doesn’t know just so he has a place to sleep as he’s homeless, stealing from those women, all to quiet his shine and try to forget what happened when he was a child. When he meets Billy right after he gets off the bus, he admits he’s trying to run away from himself. McGregor is all pain in these first few scenes. You can see it oozing from every pore. As Danny begins to turn things around, there’s a glow in McGregor’s performance as the character’s goodness (pardon the expression) shines through. McGregor isn’t flashy in his performance until later scenes at the dilapidated but still haunted Overlook. Danny is the anchor for the audience. He’s the focal point of our sympathy and we want Danny to be alright. McGregor makes it easy for us to root for Danny.
Kyliegh Curran is great as Abra Stone. Abra is tough and willing to get her hands dirty to fight Rose and the True Knot. Curran delivers a balanced performance, showing Abra as a typical teenager with fears and insecurities, and a brave and mature young woman facing a challenge no one can imagine. Curran gives Abra a calm and steady presence atypical for a teenager. We see Abra has been using her abilities since she was very young and has apparently honed them to a point that attracts Rose’s attention. When the two meet in their minds, the battle is fierce and Abra is more than a match for the older Rose. It’s a battle I would have liked to see more of, but the film makers chose to keep their interactions limited. Curran is an actress I am looking for to seeing more of as her career grows.
“Doctor Sleep” is rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use. There is a barroom fight that is very bloody. A body is shown with a knife in its chest. A character kills himself with a rifle shot to the head. We see various people shot. The True Knot people die in a weird way. A car crash shows the driver being thrown through the windshield. A little boy is sliced with a knife numerous times before he dies. A woman’s leg is cut with a knife three times. Drug use is limited to seeing a woman snort cocaine, but the True Knot’s ingesting the steam/shine could be seen as drug use. We see numerous ghosts with various injuries, including the naked bathtub hag from “The Shining.” Foul language is scattered.
Danny Lloyd, who played Danny Torrance in “The Shining,” has a brief cameo in the film. Some shots from the original movie were repurposed for “Doctor Sleep,” including the opening helicopter shot over the lake and past the small island. Some music is reused including “Midnight with the Stars and You,” heard in the party scene in the Gold Ballroom. There are numerous touches from “The Shining” that are sprinkled into “Doctor Sleep,” but they don’t take over the film, just add a hint of flavor. There is much to love about “Doctor Sleep” that has nothing to do with “The Shining.” It stands on its own as a very entertaining and tense film. It builds on “The Shining” without tearing it down. It’s a rare feat to both honor and advance a film so separated by time and those involved in making it.
“Doctor Sleep” gets five stars.
This week, I’ll be reviewing “Ford v. Ferrari” for WIMZ.com.
Other new films are:
The Good Liar—
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