“Doctor Sleep” casts a beguiling and frightful spell!

Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) cannot outrun the ghosts of his haunted past.

I will admit it. Like some of you, I dreaded Stephen King writing a sequel to his 1977 classic, “The Shining”. His novel about a broken family secluded for the long winter in a haunted hotel in the remote Colorado Rockies was King’s first hardcover bestseller, following on the heels of “Carrie” and “‘Salem’s Lot”. So popular, Stanley Kubrick turned it into a 1980 film, starring Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers and Danny Lloyd, which opened to mixed reviews from critics and Mr King, all of whom complained about deviations from the original text. The pacing is slow, and while Nicholson and the Overlook Hotel received praise, audiences found it hard to connect with any of the characters. In high school, I was so enamored of the novel, that I refused to see the movie, except in TV-Reruns. Over time it came to be accepted for its own merits and has frightened many young audiences the world over. But the novel remains the more frightening because of it. Stephen King wrote a script for the television miniseries in 1997 that is much closer to the original and is quite effective on its own. Strong performances from Steven Weber, Rebecca De Mornay, Melvin Van Peebles and Courtland Mead make it worth your while. Worth noting this version was filmed in the Stanley Hotel, the actual location that inspired King’s original novel.

For several years, I avoided King’s sequel novel until last summer. When I heard that “Doctor Sleep” was being filmed by Mike Flanagan, my interest piqued. I adore Flanagan’s Netflix horror adaptation of King’s “Gerald’s Game”, Shirley Jackson’s “The Haunting of Hill House” series, and his 2013 film “Oculus”. Fellow horror fans told me they were impressed by King’s book, so I devoured it last summer, like a member of the True Knot. I couldn’t put down. It not only rekindled my love of the first book, it kept me on the edge of my seat with a brand new horror. King wisely avoided repeating the original ghost premise and set his sequel as a brand new thriller for Dan Torrance to embark on. I can confirm for you, that Mike Flanagan once again elevates horror suspense films with this faithful adaptation of King’s writing. He also cleverly chooses to show respect to Kubrick’s 1980 film, because it changed the climax of the 1977 book, and he brings modern viewers right back to the 1980 setting of the Overlook Hotel, in all its Grand Guignol effect. My one complaint would be that Flanagan sometimes too faithfully repeats camera angles and music cues from the 1980 film. But his team’s attention to detail is so complete, you will find your skin crawling when the spooky Dies Irae-theme music starts thumping out of the speakers.

Flanagan’s cast is simply brilliant! I defy you to find a modern horror cast more dedicated to creating fully fleshed-out characters, and our director lets the story unfold gently (over 2.5 hours), so you get to know the cast before the terror really creeps up on you. This harkens back to the horror classics of the ’60’s and the ’70’s, like “Rosemary’s Baby” and “The Exorcist”, which drew audiences into the drama before anything truly frightening popped out of the dark. Too many movies rush at the pace of an MTV video to skip over character development in favor of splashy effects that impress but leave you feeling detached. I live for horror storytelling like Flanagan’s. Ewan McGregor (Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, and Star Wars: Episode 1) plays Dan Torrance, all grown-up and fragile after surviving the tragedy in 1980. Once snowed in at the Overlook Hotel, Dan’s father was seduced by malevolent spirits to drink too much, pick up an ax and chase after little Danny. You see Dan has the psychic power to shine and that made his death very desirable to evil spirits that could return to life feeding off his powers. Unfortunately for his father, Dan and his mother escaped the hotel and moved very far away, while the spirits claimed the doomed father as one of their own – forevermore.

Ewan’s Dan Torrance has become alcoholic himself to numb the power of the shining. He bounces from menial jobs and locations, until he relocates to New Hampshire and becomes “Doctor Sleep”. He joins AA and uses his powers to help hospice patients cross over more calmly. It isn’t long before words start appearing on the chalkboard wall of his apartment from Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), because she too has the power to shine. She lives in a town nearby, but they communicate through their mental powers and strike up a friendship. Kyliegh Curran is a new actress and the depth of character she imbues Abra with, from her curiosity, to her charm, to her fear of the darkness around her are extraordinary, especially in the moments when she has to stand bravely against evil forces and challenge them on her own.

Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) loses her grip on reality and unleashes hell on earth.

That evil comes in the beguiling, sultry form of Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat. Ferguson rose to fame in the 2013 British miniseries “The White Queen” for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Golden Globe award. You will remember her as Anna in “The Girl on the Train”, or Ilsa in “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” & “Fallout”, or as opera singer Jenny Lind in “The Greatest Showman”. In truth, it’s hard not to remember Ferguson, her craft is so captivating. She uses that mystique to full effect as a cunning Rose the Hat, perhaps one of Stephen King’s best villains since Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Ferguson imbues Rose with the same beauty, cruelty, madness and mystery that King crafted in his novel. It is easy to be attracted to her, terrified of her, and feeling the smallest bit of sympathy for her. But damn she’s a wicked witch!

You see Rose is the leader of the True Knot, a cult of immortal psychic-vampires that roam in a caravan of campers, stealing children with the shining to feed off of and sustain their lives. Over the course of the years, we watch Dan, Abra and Rose evolve for the better or worse. And finally, the True Knot is left starving and have set their sites on Abra, who is too innocent to realize the real danger she is in. It’s up to Dan to come to the rescue, as he needed rescuing from demons in his past.

I don’t want to ruin all of the surprises. If you have read the book, the film is as faithful an adaption as “Rosemary’s Baby” or “The Exoricst” was. You will not be disappointed. The film has to alter the climax of King’s novel, because the Overlook did not blow up in the 1980 film. So Flanagan crafts a stunning and truly frightening showdown for our heroes as they face-off with Rose in the most haunted place on earth. The resolution is even more satisfying than the book on many levels. It even made me shed a few more tears. Mr King approves of this version, very much!

As for the rest of the cast, Zahn McClarnan (Westworld) is awesome as Crow Daddy, Carl Lumley (Cagney & Lacey) is great as Dick Hallorann, Emily Alyn Lind (Revenge) is creepy as Snakebite Andi, and watch for Henry Thomas, who starred in “Gerald’s Game” and “The Haunting of Hill House”, as a very special specter. I will warn parents out there, the film retains a disturbing moment from the novel. The cult abducts a boy from a baseball game and Rose tortures him so the hungry cult can steal the steam from him. It is a harsh moment, directed so that you do not see any real violence. It’s the top-notch acting from the cast that will leave you horrified and fearing you saw something much more awful than you really did. Credit Flanagan and his actors for committing to the characters and pulling off this horrific moment brilliantly. You need it to understand the true threat that Dan and Abra must vanquish.

I’m not sure why horror movie audiences avoided this film at theaters. It floundered in its opening weekend, despite rave reviews. I urge you to see it, when it is released for home viewing. Curl up on a dark night, perhaps during a snow storm, and burn candles to keep the shadows at bay. And check back into the Overlook Hotel, take a shower, and root for Dan and Abra to outsmart the wicked Rose and her True Knot. And maybe, just maybe, Good will overcome Evil in the end. And you can turn out the lights and go gently to sleep. And hope that no one leaves a message scrawled on your walls. Mike Flanagan’s films encourage me that horror stories can be told with heart and hope and love and emotions as much as terrifying images you can never unsee! I adored the film version of “Doctor Sleep” as much as I cherished Mr King’s excellent novel. (5 out of 5 stars.)

About the author

David Chrisom

David joined Boston Super Blog in May of 2019. His vibrant personality is rivaled only by his creativity in his artwork and writing. We're lucky to have him on board sharing his thoughts! In his spare time he's a member of the New England Horror Writers.