Doctor Sleep

by Sam Cohen

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 21, 2020

'Doctor Sleep'
'Doctor Sleep'  

Available digitally today!

Physical and emotional trauma have always been omnipresent in the horror genre. Some filmmakers may use them as a cheap gambit to suck the viewer into whatever hare-brained story they're trying to tell. Others, like directors Rob Zombie and Mike Flanagan, work overtime to make sure their depictions are carefully construed through imagery and dialogue, much of which add to a specifically-tailored atmosphere for often-familiar material to play out in.

That's what "Doctor Sleep" does; it gives a proper stage to material that may seem familiar at first but gains an entirely new level of depth with how it recreates some of the most popular imagery from "The Shining." All in all, this is one of my favorite films of the year. Not because of the way it clearly sidesteps the material, but due to the way it embraces and breathes new life into it.

It has been years since Danny and Wendy Torrance narrowly avoided Jack Torrance's wrath. Now, suffering from a harsh drug and alcohol addiction, Danny (Ewan McGregor) must face his inner demons and learn to control his special powers so no more harm to himself or others is done. Running concurrently to Danny's struggles is a gang of shine-sucking vampires called the True Knot, led by the wily and dangerous Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who hunt down people like Danny and kill them for their powers. As Dan learns what being sober is like, he makes a telepathic connection with Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran), a young girl with powers even stronger than Danny's. Once the True Knot catch wind of Abra's presence, they give chase and Danny must do whatever he can to protect Abra.

If you've read the novel that "Doctor Sleep" is based on, then you probably know it exhibits some of Stephen King's worst impulses. It's a sappy and oversentimental narrative that shies away from the ugliness of King's original "The Shining." Luckily, Flanagan puts in a huge amount of leg work to sand down those rough edges and make something both horrifying and resonant. Better yet, he understands that stories like this don't exist in some otherworldly realm, they play out in the dull and boring world of America as we see it. The kindhearted-but-stagey alcoholic anonymous meetings, the grocery stores drained of all color underneath harsh fluorescent lighting, and dingy apartments people pay too much money for; these things all bring the film back down to earth, so when something terrifying and inhuman does hit, it hits hard.

That isn't to say that Flanagan washes all the color out of the film to make a point. The matter is quite the opposite. As an experienced craftsman that puts great trust in the power of wide shots and close-ups over frenetic over-the-shoulder camera work and hasty cutting, Flanagan makes "Doctor Sleep" almost operatic in a way that mirrors Kubrick's work on the original, but brings it to the present, forever decayed by time. To "Doctor Sleep," the struggle with trauma is internal and the physicality of it is long since dead. Few horror films of late have been able to pull off this kind of feat.

The cast is all game for the proceedings. Flanagan has been criticized for the disconnect between his narratives and visuals before, but here the connection has never been stronger. Ewan McGregor, Kyleigh Curran and Rebecca Ferguson all steal every single moment they're in. Danny's arc is about moving through trauma and repurposing it to help others. It's a kindhearted sentiment, sure, but one that cuts deeper and deeper as the film's 151-minute runtime trudges along. This is a very patient film that has a limited set of big, explosive moments, so it doles them out wisely and is all the better for having done so. It's also lucky to have McGregor, who knows a thing or two about playing characters making their way out of addiction, only to find life without meaning.

"Doctor Sleep" may be Mike Flanagan's most emotionally successful and visually assured film, but go into it knowing it cares as much about landing bigger, more explosive moments as it does smaller, more subdued character beats. Don't go into it thinking you're in for another rendition of "The Shining," as that film's legacy morphs with time - not unlike Flanagan's approach to trauma.



Dan Torrance :: Ewan McGregor
Rose the Hat :: Rebecca Ferguson
Abra Stone :: Kyliegh Curran
Billy Freeman :: Cliff Curtis
Crow Daddy :: Zahn McClarnon
Snakebite Andi :: Emily Lind
Apron Annie :: Selena Anduze
Barry the Chunk :: Robert Longstreet
Grampa Flick :: Carel Struycken
Silent Sarey :: Catherine Parker
Diesel Doug :: James Flanagan
Short Eddie :: Met Clark
David Stone :: Zackary Momoh
Lucy Stone :: Jocelin Donahue
Young Abra :: Dakota Hickman
Dick Hallorann :: Carl Lumbly
The Bartender :: Henry Thomas
Dr. John :: Bruce Greenwood
Mrs. Massey :: Sallye Hooks
Wendy Torrance :: Alex Essoe
Young Danny :: Roger Floyd
Charlie :: George Mengert
Bradley Trevor :: Jacob Tremblay
Deenie :: Chelsea Talmadge
Violet :: Violet McGraw
Elderly Patient :: Nicholas Pryor


Director :: Mike Flanagan
Screenwriter :: Mike Flanagan
Producer :: Trevor Macy
Producer :: Jon Berg
Executive Producer :: Roy Lee
Executive Producer :: Scott Lumpkin
Executive Producer :: Akiva Goldsman
Executive Producer :: Kevin McCormick
Cinematographer :: Michael Fimognari
Film Editor :: Mike Flanagan
Original Music :: The Newton Brothers
Production Design :: Maher Ahmad
Supervising Art Direction :: Elizabeth Boller
Art Director :: Richie Bearden
Costume Designer :: Terry Anderson
Casting :: Anne McCarthy
Casting :: Kellie Roy