Doctor Sleep movie review: Mike Flanagan's strong grasp on the horror genre makes this a worthy sequel to The Shining
Doctor Sleep lead actors, Ewan McGregor delivers a solid performance and Rebecca Fergusson is superb in a role that develops like a photograph even though it feels like a cookie-cutter villain at the onset
A sequel to one of the most iconic properties in horror was always going to be a tough hill for director Mike Flanagan, but Doctor Sleep just about passes the sequel test, despite being a whole different film with bits of The Shining inserted into it.
Doctor Sleep owes its existence to the success of the It films, and I’ll admit it is wonderful to see Stephen King flavored big-budget horror on a mainstream scale. You would absolutely have to watch The Shining to be able to enjoy Doctor Sleep, but even newcomers would be able to follow the story without being too confused because of the liberal use of exposition. The sequel picks up a few decades after the events of the first movie – Danny the kid is now grown up into Dan (Ewan McGregor), a middle-aged man struggling with his childhood traumas. He may be cursed with psychic abilities, but whether it’s real or a mechanism to cope with his trauma is left for you to discover.
Flanagan, as he proved so efficiently in Oculus and The Haunting of Hill House, once again delves in psychological horrors and the themes of confronting monsters from one’s past; his ability to deliver eerie scares without the need to incorporate sudden and cheap loud noises remains intact. At a runtime of two and a half hours, this is a massive film, and although it does drag a little bit in the middle it feels like a faithful and reverent adaptation of both Kubrick and King. The latter was famously derisive of Kubrick’s film and it is clear why he likes Doctor Sleep – it contains many of the elements that make King’s work stand out – the details of which are best-kept secret before you see the film. Rabid fans of King are going to love this, particularly with the plot veering into kids with telekinetic powers, a story constituent that is prevalent in 90 percent of King’s work – and which went on to influence Stranger Things.
So are you going to be terrified? Absolutely. There’s not a single horror-based complaint one could drudge up because Flanagan’s grasp on craft is so strong. One thing to mull over, though, is whether it needed any of the homages to the original film because they’re the weakest moments here. The repetitive nature of invoking scenes from The Shining seems more like fan service than in service to the plot – and we already saw the greatest Shining fan film in Ready Player One. As someone who hasn’t read the book on which Doctor Sleep is based on, I can’t comment on how faithful it is to the source material, but King’s approval, as well as the clarity of thought in the narrative, is enough to indicate that Flanagan did jettison the silly bits that every King book contains.
The atmosphere is key here – thanks to the chilly cinematography and production design, the film screams winter, and the higher budget compared to horror competition shows. The arthouse approach that Flanagan takes feels earned, and appropriate to the themes it explores. McGregor delivers a solid performance and Rebecca Fergusson is superb in a role that develops like a photograph even though it feels like a cookie-cutter villain at the onset. ‘Kids with powers’ is a subgenre I did not expect from a Shining sequel, but this isn’t a superhero movie – this is a psychology lesson, albeit as subtle as an axe ramming through a door. Do yourselves a favor and head to the theaters – it’s the season of highbrow horror – relish the moment while it lasts.
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