In one of the scenes in “Doctor Sleep”, one of the main protagonists Abra Stone tells her mom ”We don’t die …….we just pass on” when Abra is seen talking to Danny Torrance who is invisible to everyone else. The “we” in this scene are the unique kind of people who “shine”… Shining is the activity where two people totally unknown and have not met before connect with their minds and have conversations. In yet another scene, Danny who works as a helper at a ‘hospice’ facility is helping terminally ill patients die in peace. One of his patients says, “To us you are a Doctor and not an orderly, as you help us sleep in difficult hours, so we think you are Doctor Sleep”. It’s the world of these unique individuals who may seem normal to you but have these extraordinary capabilities in which “Doctor Sleep” is set.
“Doctor Sleep” is a sequel to the 1980 film “The Shining” starring Jack Nicholson which was directed by Stanley Kubrick. Both books have been written by Stephen King. The Shining was published as a book in 1977 and Doctor Sleep was published in 2013. The Shining as a movie is considered by many top rate film critics as the greatest horror film of all time. The film stars seasoned actors like Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and features the extraordinary talented debutant Kyleigh Curran as Abra Stone. The film is written and directed by Mike Flanagan (House OnThe Haunted Hill, Occullus, Hush) . Stephen King is also one of the key contributors to the movie’s development.
“Doctor Sleep” follows the exploits and time of Danny Torrance. Danny who as a special child was a “Shining” individual and was able to save himself and his mother from his father who was possessed by spirits in The Overlook Hotel where the latter was a caretaker. Following these events, Danny grows up as an adult works menial jobs to survive after his mother passes on. He continues to “Shine” and forms a contact with fellow shiner Abra Stone. Abra is exceptionally capable and develops a bond with Danny as she grows up. As these events occur, a group of destructive shiners called The Knot and led by Rose The Hat are on the prowl looking for vulnerable shiners who they can prey on and take away their “shine” to lengthen their lifespans. As events ensue, Rose and The Knot are pitted against Danny and Abra. This duel leads to the ultimate climax!
“THE SHINING” and “DOCTOR SLEEP”
It will be fair to say that “Doctor Sleep” is a unique film and stands its own ground with its superlative narrative and engaging characters. But it will be meaningful to understand the story’s essence from “The Shining”. The Stanley Kubrick film is known for the fear it creates without using unnecessary monsters and by playing on “surroundings” as objects of fear and tension. Be it the scenes in which little Danny is riding his tricycle in pin drop silence or be it the insane typing on the typewriter by Jack. The movie played and built on what isolation does to some people. The fear is real and at the same time Stephen King and Kubrick make it psychological. In “Doctor Sleep”, Flanagan borrows and builds from the vision of King and Kubrick. He builds the tension by shooting in absolute isolation of sorts. In fact in the whole movie, barring one or two scenes, there are only a handful of people. The return to The Overlook Hotel brings memories for Kubrick/King fans like never before. The casting of The Knot group led by Rebecca Ferguson’s Rose character is top notch. Each of the members look crazed, disturbed and scary at some level. Some characters from “The Shining” are used here but they are all different actors although the resemblance is striking. In fact, in the third act of the story, the viewer gets transported in “The Shining” in some way. But “Doctor Sleep” introduces us to Abra Stone, Rose and many other new characters who are no less interesting than the ones in “The Shining”. I strongly feel that both “Doctor Sleep” and “The Shining” are made of the same thread but somehow both are independently unique in their storytelling.
CHARACTER DEEP DIVING IN “DOCTOR SLEEP”
The film can be made a referred case study for character development. Each and every main character has its origins and goals very finely etched. Abra’s idea of finding a friend who is like her explains how she views the world. Danny on the other hand has had a very troublesome life ever since he left the Overlook Hotel but even then he hangs on to his ‘friends’ from that time in his life. Rose who is a pure hunter is afraid of the fact that she might lose her throne of “the top hunter” to a teen girl like Abra, and its this vulnerability that Abra plays on to beat her. All these characters are unique to themselves and yet they are all connected to each other in some way. Its this beauty of writing which echoes through the haunting narrative of “Doctor Sleep”
WHERE ARE THE MONSTERS?
Any Stephen King story will have some disturbing characters. Be it “IT” , be it “ The Green Mile” , “The Dream Catcher”, “Carrie”, “The Dead Zone”, they all have psychologically challenged people morphing into scary characters. That might be true of the current rage “Joker” as well. But “Doctor Sleep” plays on gore and horror in a minimalist fashion and the stellar cast doesn’t make you crave for more fear. The real monster in the story are the people themselves. Only when the story moves to its end, you might see familiar territory of King’s vision in terms of horror and its amplifier.
I think Kyleigh Curran who plays Abra Stone gives a knockout debut performance. Rebecca Ferguson has to be the best vamp portrayal I have scene in years, she looks delectably devilish and instills fear as soon as she turns up the screen with her presence. Ewan McGregor also gives a top rate portrayal of Danny although I expected a bit more in terms of a range of emotions. I also liked Cliff Curtis’ role as Danny’s friend.
Mike Flanagan had delivered a fitting tribute to the legacy of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick but has also built his own unique vision in storytelling by borrowing the best of both King and Kubrick. I would give this movie a 9 out of 10 as it is possibly the best horror film I have seen in years!