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Movie Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep is born of King and Kubrick, and Mike Flanagan makes it work

Doctor Sleep
Directed by Mike Flanagan
In Theatres

Let's get this out of the way first - I like Doctor Sleep. A lot. It scared me, moved me, fascinated me, horrified me. It takes chances and goes places that very few genre films dare to go. And I say this as someone who regards The Shining as not only the one of the greatest horror films of Ever, but as one of the greatest films of Ever. In my oh, so, humble opinion, The Shining is perfection. Every frame, every shot, every line of dialogue, every gasp, every performance, every detail. The oppressive isolation, the coldness, the dark humour, the time cards that make no damn sense at all. My favourite Kubrick? My favourite Kubrick. 

If anyone was going to take on the unenviable task of adapting and directing a sequel to The Shining, well, it had to be Mike Flanagan. And Doctor Sleep is most definitely a Mike Flanagan film. Mike Flanagan is the writer and director behind some of The Great Horror Films in this golden age of horror that we're living in. Oculus, Hush, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Gerald's Game. He's the guy behind The Haunting of Hill House, the Netflix series that messed with its audiences' brains and redefined what a television show could be. Mr. Flanagan never takes the easy way, never spoon feeds his audience, loves taking risks, and punches against the walls of the genre until they bend and twist. While Mr. Flanagan may not have the near supernatural artistic gifts of a Kubrick, he has learned the important Kubrick lessons. Chief among them being always entertain while you're busy breaking the walls of your genre. 

Is Doctor Sleep as good as The Shining? Are you a crazy person asking a crazy question like that? Did you miss me rambling on about how The Shining is perfection? So, no, Doctor Sleep is not as good as The Shining. Now stop asking crazy questions.

Doctor Sleep has to somehow balance being an adaptation of Doctor Sleep, Stephen King's sequel to his novel The Shining, and a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's film, which diverged from the novel to such a degree that Mr. King went very public with his dislike of the film for years. It's a project born out of two very different parents: Mr. King's novels about addiction and the toll it takes on parents, their children - both in childhood and adulthood; and Mr. Kubrick's film which proposes that the evil of the Overlook Hotel is seducing the evil at the heart of Jack Torrance. Mr. King's Jack Torrance is a recovering alcoholic whose hunger for relief is the nugget of his soul that the hotel is eating. Mr. Kubrick's Jack Torrance is an evil bastard who is holding his family prisoner, who broke his child's arm in a unreasonable rage.

And somehow, against all odds, Doctor Sleep works. Even with these two conflicting view points, these two paradoxical world views at its heart, Doctor Sleep is a success. 

Mike Flanagan's film doesn't try to mimic Kubrick's film, other than a few scenes that have been recreated. He doesn't have the cold, almost clinical detachment of Stanley Kubrick. Mr. Flanagan has more affection for his characters, more warmth and optimism, and more certainty in the goodness of people. And Doctor Sleep is better for it. If it had been a hack attempt at trying to imitate Kubrick, the film would have been a complete failure. By being true to his strengths, Mr. Flanagan has made a movie that I think could be on the Mount Rushmore of this golden age of horror films that we're living in.

Look, no-one is going to making a follow-up to Room 237 about Doctor Sleep. And that's okay. Doctor Sleep is really good and entertaining, it just doesn't have that thing that makes some of us lose our minds as we try to figure out the layout of the Overlook Hotel. And again, that's okay.

Also, Doctor Sleep is miles ahead in the Kubrick sequel race. It is so much better than 2010. Hey, I enjoy 2010 so don't come at me. But, really, it's not a very good film. 

What is Doctor Sleep about? Really, are you a crazy person asking another crazy question like that? I'm not going to get into anything because that could mean destroying the surprises and twists and horror that await you. Now, really, stop asking crazy questions.

I will tell you that the performances are all top shelf, across the board. Ewan McGregor has brought his A game. And Rebecca Ferguson is one of the great horror villains of Ever. Everyone, honestly and truly, is awesome sauce. And I can tell you that the film looks great. You feel the cold in your bones. The Overlook is like a tattered, hungry beast waiting for our brains to once again make sense of its layout. The Americana flourishes and attention to detail stands Doctor Sleep with other classic Stephen King adaptations, like The Dead Zone or Misery or Shawshank or Stand By Me or Gerald's Game. Oh, and I can also tell you that the score by The Newton Brothers is great. It crawls under your skin and takes up residence in the lizard part of the brain, whispering cruelties the entire time. 

So, yeah. I enjoyed Doctor Sleep. But, I will say this - there are scenes of violence against children that are very, very disturbing and if you find scenes of violence against children very troubling, well, know that this is waiting for you. 

On the podcast front, I have to recommend The Rewatchables. Bill Simmons and friends and employees sit and chat about rewatcheable movies. They recently did The Shining and it's a humdinger.