Doctor Sleep review – More King than Kubrick, Nostalgic, Unforgettable and Nightmare-Inducing

The world shines again. Doctor Sleep is a neat-mix of a sequel and adaptation to Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece The Shining and Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep novel. Mike Flanagan directs a film that is his own and never attempts to do Kubrick, it is more so King than Kubrick – swaying rather heavily to the supernatural aspects of horror rather than Kubrick’s more subtle psychological approach. Not being Kubrickian is not a detriment to the film, as it would be an impossible task trying to replicate the master’s work. It preserves Kubrick while taking a new approach in it being an unforgettable nightmare-induced film. When talking about Doctor Sleep there must be a real emphasis placed on the director and his inspirations to the vastly differing views of two of its greatest assets.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

The Shining is one of the best films ever made and likewise, Kubrick is a master of cinema. However, Flanagan gives in to King’s more supernatural-induced approach of less subtly and more striking-straight horror. Here he is able to find a rather neat balance of homages to the original film’s unforgettable imagery and vision while also leaning further into King’s books. I wonder what Kubrick would think? I believe Flanagan has made his own film, it is noticeably a ‘Mike Flanagan film’ in its aspects of visual horror. It is a great sign of his acknowledgment and love for The Shining, but he also knows that he has to do his own film.

Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) remains traumatized by his father’s hidden-yet-legendary actions at the Overlook Hotel. Picking up just after the ordeals depicted in The Shining, Danny (Roger Dale Floyd) and Wendy  Torrence (Alex Essoe) try to move on with their lives. All is disturbed when Abra (Kyliegh Curran) makes a connection through the shining- her ability to “shine” rivals Danny’s and the nightmare-filled Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Rose’s desire to live forever leads her to Abra and Danny, and ultimately back to the forbidden place of nightmares, the Overlook Hotel.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

Unlike The Shining which is a psychological horror, Doctor Sleep is most definitely a supernatural horror. With themes and elements that contrast what Kubrick would have done, it lays more into the King-supernatural-filled occult aspect of horror- glistening eyes and all. It is chilling and horrifying, with maybe some of the best horror imagery ever done? One specific dream-like scene of confrontation has a Mama like effect in its almost stop-motion-type style, truly unnerving.

The only few detriments in the eyes of a Kubrick fan would be Flanagan’s giving into Jack Torrence’s alcoholism, something that King was most against Kubrick dropping in The Shining. However, that doesn’t affect the quality of Doctor Sleep, just it may affect your view on a few moments. Additionally, with Flanagan’s attempt at his own rendition he has less subtly than Kubrick had.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

Ewan McGregor is the perfect elder Danny Torrence. He channels Danny Lloyd’s iconic performance and there is no doubt ever felt that he isn’t Danny. Rebecca Ferguson terrifies as Rose the Hat, a curiously twisted “shine” sorceress. She is absolutely mesmerizing. Taking some great leaps was the re-casting of some of The Shining’s characters including the greatest re-casting with Carl Lumbly as Dick, Alex Essoe as Wendy, and Roger Dale Floyd as Danny. They are all great and risk-taking roles that deliver some great moments of nostalgia. A mention has to be made to first-time-performer Kyliegh Curran, who produces an amazing performance that leads a pivotal run to the film.

Having seen Flanagan’s previous works, you can tell he has not jeopardized his vision to accommodate either of the project’s looming entities that differ so vastly. True moments of pure horror serve spectators shiver-filled fits of shock and anguish. Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House is a great example of the pace of Doctor Sleep, it runs on a simmering pace with sporadic snippets of horror that grow larger and larger as the film goes by.

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Courtesy of Warner Bros. 

Mike Flanagan’s regular cinematographer Michael Fimognari returns with another striking piece of work. His and Flanagan’s precision in the composition of framing is perfectly suggestive. There is a sense of awe and wonder to the sweepingly delicate visuals and they are able to capture some of the very finest moments of horror cinema ever made. Nostalgia runs wild with specific Kubrick-mirrored shots. Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s original theme is brought back in a rendition by frequent collaborators the Newton Brothers. Chills will tingle down your spine as The Shining theme begins to play. Chills of nostalgia and terror fill your body as you are plunged back into that world. Throughout there is an ongoing heart-beat effect, similar to Dunkirk‘s ticking, it creates brimming tension and suspense in every scene.

Doctor Sleep is Flanagan’s nightmare-inducing and masterfully chilling take on The Shining. It is more King than Kubrick, a supernatural horror rather than a more Kubrickian psychological approach. It is different, worthy, and undeniably unforgettable in its capturing of horror-filled imagery.

5/5 Stars ★★★★★

Ben Rolph

DOCTOR SLEEP is set for US release on Nov. 8 and the UK on Oct. 31

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