As children grow older, they start to realize how ugly and dark the world is. Strangers try to devour what makes them special for their own gain, and it all comes at the expense of the child’s innocence. Doctor Sleep tells the story of what happens when a traumatized boy must grow up in a world with strangers whose sole purpose is to devour.
Doctor Sleep is the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s classic horror film The Shining. The film is directed, written, and edited by Mike Flanagan, who’s most known for his work on the supernatural horror Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. The film also stars Ewan McGregor as an older Danny Torres, and it is set several decades after the events of The Shining.
Much of what works here is the presence of danger, specifically as it relates to the proximity of its child actors. For instance, actor Jacob Tremblay makes a brief appearance as a child who possess the power to shine. When Tremblay’s character finds himself surrounded by a supernatural threat, he acts on instinct and cries out for help. Tremblay’s acting in this scene brings in mind the terrible cries of a young child being harmed, and worse the audience has no choice but to sit and watch it all unfold. Although Trembly appears only briefly, he makes the most out of his limited screen time.
Trembly isn’t the only child actor who makes an impression. While McGregor does a fantastic job expressing Danny’s lost innocence, its newcomer Kyleigh Curran who steals the show as another child who shines. Acting against a solid performer like McGregor, Curran expresses a range of emotions without ever veering towards ridiculous. Somehow, even with the type of powers she had, Curran’s able to keep her character grounded, while at the same time showing that there’s something special underneath those innocent eyes. Every time her character was in danger, a rush of urgency flows out of the screen and then washes over the audience. She’s definitely an actress to watch out for.
Another actress who does an excellent job expressing a variety of emotions through the eyes is the talented Rebecca Ferguson. Ferguson plays a character named Rose the Hat, who throughout the film goes after the children who can shine and feeds on their psychic powers. Rose’s presence presents this unnerving feeling which flows during scenes where there’s only dialogue. Ferguson’s character also serves as a prime example of Stephen King’s original premise. Overall while watching the film, it’s hard to ignore what Stephen King’s original story was trying to say about children and the many threats they’re force to endure. Rose, who’s part of a supernatural group seeking to capture these special children, represents the threat of the outside world. She’s the shadow in the child’s bedroom. As charismatic as she is, underneath her charisma and charm lies this remorseless, hungry threat. Ferguson does a great job playing off Curran’s character.
Speaking of playing off another character, Flanagan does a magnificent job playing off the character and atmosphere of Kubrick’s original film by managing to put in references to The Shining. While it does take a long time to get to the Overlook, never once did I feel Flanagan was wasting our time. He uses the eerie score The Newton Brothers to keep the audience on edge throughout the first two acts. With it, I always felt there was a sense of danger following each of the main characters. While using excellent production design and atmosphere, Flanagan tells the story of a broken Danny Torres as he tries to reclaim his innocence while locking away the memories of what happened to him.
And yet, the memories of what happen at the Overlook hotel hovers over the entire film, like a ghost from the past. Thankfully, these memories don’t become the entire focus of Doctor Sleep. Those not familiar with The Shining will be able to pick up on the story without facing any trouble. Although the film is quite long, it doesn’t devour its own message with pointless action scenes and jump scares galore (thank god!). An excellent psychological horror film, Doctor Sleep remembers the legend of Kubrick’s classic film while setting a course to its own path.