Doctor Sleep is the Best Sequel that Horror Has Had

Quite possibly one of the best sequels that Hollywood has seen comes in the form of Doctor Sleep directed by Mike Flanagan, sequel to The Shining, both of which are Stephen King properties.

Studios not being possessive control freaks
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The Good
Two words. Mike. Flanagan.
Mike Flanagan wrote, directed and edited this movie, and there's no other King movie he could've done so well.
The most perfect modern retelling.
The Bad
You'll appreciate this a little less if you haven't watched The Shining.
Why haven't you watched The Shining?
You should REALLY watch The Shining.

Not a mere claim.

Kubrick’s masterpiece, The Shining is no mean chalice to uphold. And with Stephen King‘s stalwart dislike of the film, and King still being alive, there was no surprise we were going to see something different (at the very least). P.S. If you need an introduction to The Shining, io9 has a great one!

In 2019, horror for horror’s sake is tired. Good horror today is defined by revolutionising factors and the value of storytelling for modern audiences preceding the value of easy scares. Doctor Sleep delivers nothing short of perfection, and it’s very carefully constructed. Here’s why.

If there was one person who could bring realism to the literary magic of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep, it was the person who made Before I Wake. If there was someone with extravagant talent at navigating the horrors of the large-but-familiar spaces ala Overlook Hotel, it was the man whose brainchild is The Haunting of Hill House. If ever there was a wizard who could navigate crippling addiction tearing through the scaffolds of modern horror storytelling, it’s also the Hill House guy. I’M ALMOST DONE. If there was one director who we knew could also make commercial horror and NAIL IT, it’s the name on films Hush and Ouija: Origin of Evil.

Mike Flanagan is–and has been–the Billie Eilish of the horror world, and nobody knows it yet.

An unsettling gif from Mike Flanagan's The Haunting of Hill House.
An unsettling gif from Mike Flanagan’s The Haunting of Hill House.

Warner Bros. censored Doctor Sleep, but it’s no-holds barred

Doctor Sleep, sequel to The Shining, is a fantasy horror film directed, written and edited by Mike Flanagan, who worked with frequent collaborators The Newton Brothers (on soundtrack) and Michael Fimognari (cinematographer) to capture the best elements of all his work to date and put it into Doctor Sleep. What we get is Spielberg-style movie magic in horror, and it’s stunning.

Doctor Sleep takes us into the world of Danny in a new lease of life after scraping through the aftermath of The Shining. He has mostly buried his Shine in fear of lurking evil, only using it in its most passive form to communicate with patients in front of him. He meets Abra, a girl who also possesses a strong sense of Shine and is able to communicate with him. Abra has also mentally identified the existence and location of a gypsy cult that feeds off of the Shine in people. Pain and humanity bring Abra and Danny together in an inevitable face-off with the cult.

Rose of the True Knot cult in Doctor Sleep.
Rose of the True Knot cult.

The movie is woven together seamlessly, with exceedingly adept writing that takes the story’s format to astounding power levels. The story has sizable long-form thought put into it, and is remnant of classic horror tales where the format works toward building a strong premise first, before ‘the action’ begins. Doctor Sleep breathes fresh air into the genre by placing story at a prime point of importance. This is just how movies should be, horror or not. SomeWan‘s gotta buck up.

The story is told with such consideration that it ties up many of The Shining’s loose ends. More than that, it’s Flanagan’s understanding of warm humanity in the coldest spaces that makes his work Spielberg-esque in creating the feeling of movie magic.

I’ll move on to what you really want to hear – how the elements of The Shining are integrated into Doctor Sleep. But first..

The cast is flawless

Doctor Sleep sees Ewan McGregor as adult Danny. It’s truly the best of both worlds because both his clean-shaven and Kenobi bearded faces are on display. The movie is very aware of the Kenobi factor from the get-go, establishing higher ground with plentiful easy-to-miss “hi there”s being directed at Danny.

Obi-Wan Kenobi says,

The beguilling antagonist Rose is played by Rebecca Ferguson, who is not only a great actress, but an even more skillful one when given fantasy superpowers and the will to cause pain, spurred by a desperate need to survive.

With two thirds of the main cast being tried-and-tested actors, we’re only really left with the actress for the thirteen-year-old Abra Stone to serve as a true mark of whether the cast can hold a candle to the iconography of this franchise. And boy, does she SHINE. Kyliegh Curran is one of those kids who were born to play their roles, bringing immense believability to the fantastical elements of the movie, and conveying the emotionally burdened character with conviction. She also portrays the character with the seeming maturity of an adult and just the right amounts of naivete.

Abra of Doctor Sleep with her eyes whited out.

Special mentions must also be given to the integral supporting cast who were put to the task of playing the roles of the original characters of The Shining. Mr. Hallorann is played by Carl Lumbly who speaks with the same endearing tone as the Dick Hallorann that we all know. Alex Essoe replaces Shelley Duvall and brings to Wendy Torrance the conviction and strength of a woman that Stephen King hated so much about Kubrick’s Wendy. It’s clear there’s been attention given to unspoken iconic things, like the way Wendy calls out to Danny, or the twinkle in Mr. Hallorann’s eyes.

Shelley Duvall in Stephen King's The Shining

It would take plenty more words to give this cast the credit that it deserves.

The other things that make this a landmark movie

There’s an old wives’ tale that the more hands are involved in a cooking process, the worse the dish will taste. In this case, the studio took a leap of faith putting the movie almost entirely in the good hands of Mike Flanagan. This is a marvellous testament to what a creative visionaries could achieve if left to their devices and creative freedom.

With the director having all-hands in the production process with his go-to guys, Doctor Sleep screams Mike Flanagan–we’re lucky he’s as good a storyteller as he is a filmmaker.

The cinematography, effects and interwoven score complement the movie with the eeriness and tension that can stand respectably but uniquely next to The Shining’s. There’s also a notable congruence in visiting imagery from The Shining as old and new amalgamate beautifully.

Any familiar sequences in Doctor Sleep were reshot for the movie. Guess we know who's King...
Any familiar sequences in Doctor Sleep were reshot for the movie. Guess we know who’s King…

The achievements of this movie make the combination of The Shining and Doctor Sleep akin to a historical phenomenon. It can be said that both films deserve the ardent awe of the film world, with Kubrick’s The Shining being a technical and visual extravaganza of its time and Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep being a milestone achievement for modern storytelling in the crevices of horror and fantasy.

These are both, in their own rights, movies that should bring film students and writers to the brink of tears. Or if you’re anything like me, to the desperate attempts at trying to finally stop crying with awe midway through the credit rolls.

My review is technically done here. Keep reading if you want to know how Doctor Sleep is an especial treat for fans.

Doctor Sleep feels like it was made by fans, for the same nuances that make it perfect for non-fans

If you’ve been a fan of something for a long time, there’s nothing like good pay-off. Any fan of The Shining or of Kubrick’s work would know that it was all about revelling in an overarching sense of feeling. Whether in the Overlook Hotel, or in the midst of a Space Odyssey. Sometimes that meant retaking iconic baseball scene more than 120 times. And if there’s one thing a fan knows, it’s that things weren’t perfect.

The work of Stanley Kubrick.
The work of Stanley Kubrick.

Doctor Sleep is fan service unlike any other. It’s not flagrant. It’s seamless. There’s an understanding of all of The Shining’s shortcomings and doing what a sequel should do: completing and furthering a story. Not to mention, the way the imagery of The Shining is revisited is not only creative, it’s fitting and concedes to the renewed personal premise of Doctor Sleep. In script, there is so much flavour, with bursts of nuance that will set some bells ringing in fans’ heads. To give an example, the phrase “fucking bitch” being spit out with loathing might make you smirk, but it may not do the same for a friend.

Mike Flanagan knows exactly how to craft an intricately choreographed striptease, keeping you on your toes and dropping nostalgia bombs at the absolute perfect times. This exceeds his tastefulness on when to visit The Shining’s themes, and I guarantee that these moments will make you squeal.

If you’re a fan of Mike Flanagan, there are moments in the film that you’ll recognise from his work particularly in The Haunting of Hill House, that might as well be labelled the Flanagan aesthetic.

The Haunting of Hill House lights.
The Haunting of Hill House.

And if you’re a fan of Stephen King, you’d be happy to know that this movie is one that he likes. Recent Stephen King adaptations It and Pet Semetary have all been about bringing the horrors in books to life. The fear that lurks in the depths of your heart when you read about acts of “pure human fuckery” is what they have raised, and Doctor Sleep does this in the best way yet.

There’s wonder in how Flanagan and his team have pulled this off, and yet, there’s a part of me that’s sick queasy at how this movie’s going to incite hate for not prioritising sheer ‘scare factor’. This is movie magic, and this is what a Stephen King property deserves, although that’s exactly what will both plague and uplift it financially. It’s the perfect modern adaptation of an ultimate classic, and there’s no other King property that Mike Flanagan would have been more cut out for. And if this doesn’t go down in history, it’s only because of the way audiences have evolved, or devolved; horror is now largely demarcative of a executional style.

If not for the visual eye of Kubrick, would The Shining film, topically, have been of exceptional notice to cinema goers today? It’s fact that most of the ticket buyers of The Conjuring (largely successful) have probably not watched Rosemary’s Baby, or know Dracula outside of being trademark vampire. The audience that sell out horror tickets today aren’t actually the people that you’d call call horror-lovers.

If you made it here, honestly, thanks for reading.

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