While everyone was eagerly awaiting the arrival of It: Chapter Two (an overly long, only slightly above average sequel), I was getting myself hyped up for writer/director Mike Flanagan’s sequel to The Shining – Dr Sleep. The Haunting of Hill House is one of my favourite shows of all time and Flanagan has quietly been working away on an ever-growing catalogue of horror/dramas to go along with this Netflix gem.
Previous successes include Hush, Oculus as well as the successful Stephen King adaptation of Gerald’s Game. Fortunately, Flanagan’s latest film once again does not disappoint with a strong ensemble cast, well written script and enough respect paid to Kubrick’s original masterpiece to please fans and welcome new ones.
Ewan McGregor plays Dan Torrance, now all grown up and many years after his father went mad and tried to kill him and his mother in the Overlook Hotel all those years ago (spoiler alert lol). Thanks to large amounts of alcohol to enable him to suppress his telekinetic powers (known as his shine) for most of his adult life he has managed to lock away the ghosts from his past (both figuratively and literally).
When we meet Torrance he is sad, bearded, friendless and trudging through life as a miserable alcoholic. He begins to find purpose once more when a group of evildoers start tracking down a powerful young girl whose shine they wish to consume (by killing her). She reaches out to Danny for help, forcing him to deal with his alcoholism, his special ability, and eventually his past. Sound ridiculous? Let’s face it, most Stephen King stories ARE ridiculous and on paper they sound impossible to turn into a film, which is why the success of Dr Sleep is all the more impressive.
The performances are exceptional. Ewen McGregor is as good as he has ever been – in fact this is probably the best he has ever been. His ability to provide a grounded, relatable yet emotionally broken Torrance gives the film such an engaging heart that no matter how ridiculous the subject matter gets at times it never feels as far-fetched as it could have. Cliff Curtis is brilliant alongside McGregor and their friendship as they deal with addiction is a fantastic and grounded subplot to the main horror themes.
Thirteen-year-old newcomer Kyliegh Curran is exceptional. Like a lot of King’s writing, children are central to the plot and Curran does not appear out of her depth, providing a brilliant onscreen heroine matching McGregor’s integrity and proving that she has an incredibly bright future ahead of her.
Rebecca Ferguson plays a nuanced and fantastic villain, aptly named Rosie the Hat (she wears a hat, you see) and is as frightening as she is endearing. Carl Lumbly provides an exceptional take as familiar character Dick Hallorann seamlessly replacing Scatman Crothers in a pivotal role from the original.
Both in his writing and directing of Dr Sleep, Flanagan does well to recognise the original film with a clear respect for Kubrick’s creation whilst also allowing for this sequel to stand on its own two feet. Although the brief reenacted moments from Kubrick’s The Shining can feel a little bit jarring, overall this film works both as a sequel and a fresh filmmaker’s take on King’s universe.
With well-paced horror elements, suspense, a good level of violence and jump scares, despite the longer run-time, it never feels long. In parts it is genuinely frightening, overall genuinely fascinating and thoroughly engaging and another welcome entry into Mike Flanagan’s ever impressive and growing cinematic footprint.
– Ashton Brown