Mike Flannagan’s Doctor Sleep is quite possibly my favorite film of 2019. His take on Stephen King’s novel is outstanding. The prodigious effort Mike undertook to interweave King’s writing with Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is something that resides somewhere between holy crap and black magic.
It’s no secret that King is not a fan of Kubrick’s film The Shining, calling Kubrick’s ending “dorky” and the film itself “disappointing” in his 1981 nonfiction book, Danse Macabre. I don’t know how Mike did it, but I believe he managed to intertwine both Kubrick’s The Shining, and King’s Doctor Sleep in a way that even Uncle Stevie himself might appreciate.
Doctor Sleep opens some 30-plus years following the events of six-year-old Danny Torrance’s (Danny Lloyd) traumatizing winter at the Overlook Hotel.
For those of you who don’t know, King burns the hotel to the ground in his novel, while Kubrick leaves it abandoned and frozen in the film (a big part of King’s contention). The Overlook, here faithfully recreated in meticulous detail from Kubrick’s film, almost didn’t make it into Doctor Sleep, as Mike Flanagan recounts in an interview with The Daily Beast:
“I needed his [King’s] blessing to do that before I would start the script. If he hadn’t given me his blessing, I wouldn’t have taken the job, or even written it, much less made the film,” Flanagan concedes. “My initial pitch to him was that I’d like to do as faithful an adaptation of Doctor Sleep as I can, but I’d like to bring back the Overlook—and specifically, I’d like to bring back the Overlook as Kubrick imagined it. And his initial reaction was, ‘No.’ He was not interested in that.”
You can read The Daily Beast‘s full interview with Mike Flanagan here.
Thankfully, King relented, and Flanagan gives us one of the most memorable and thrilling endings to a film that I’ve seen in a long time.
Danny (Ewan McGregor), now 40 and going by the name Dan, has taken up his father’s mantel, having become a full-on alcoholic and drug abuser. To escape himself and what he has become, he hops a bus and happens in the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire.
Ewan McGregor has always been pretty hit and miss for me. When I first learned of his casting, I was a bit taken aback–the pain of the Star Wars prequels still a little too fresh in my mind. It turns out Ewan is perfect as the older Danny Torrance, and I cannot picture the role with any other actor. On a personal note, I have officially removed Ewan from the Star Wars prequel prison I’d stuck him in (George remains locked up in solitary for Jar-Jar).
It’s also worth noting that Roger Dale Floyd does an outstanding job playing young Danny in the fastidious reshot scenes of The Shining. It was an absolute thrill to watch him ride through the halls of the Overlook on his Big Wheel, pausing by room 237 (217 in the novel) as its door slowly opens.
It was great to see Dick Hallorann again, too, this time played by the “I want you as my friend,” Carl Lumbly (Alias, NCIS). I was especially thrilled by an early scene where Dick teaches Danny about creating “a box”–one of my favorite details in King’s novel.
Ready regain control of his life, Dan, still haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook, quickly makes friends with Frazier local, Billy (Cliff Curtis). Billy gives Dan a job and helps him to line up a position at the local hospice. After years of trying to mute his life with alcohol, Dan finds peace in sobriety, in turn giving comfort to the hospice’s dying patients with his shining and earning himself the nickname “Doctor Sleep” in the process.
Dan also strikes up a new friendship with Abra (Kyliegh Curran), at first through a serious of inconspicuous blackboard notes, before becoming something genuine as he strives to help her as the once Overlook chef, Dick Hallorann, had done for him.
Meanwhile, some fifteen hundred miles away, the True Knot, a collective group of soul-sucking vampires, make a meal of baseball hopeful, Bradley Trevor, played hauntingly by Jacob Tremblay (Good Boys), in one of Doctor Sleep‘s most disturbing scenes.
Starving, with their supply of steam (bottled shining) running low, True Knot leader, “Rose the Hat,” convincingly played by the beautiful Rebecca Ferguson, is on the hunt for a big score. Rose realizes their little Bradley Trevor Happy Meal has caught the attention of a young girl, a girl whose shining ability makes Danny’s look like a fifteen-watt light bulb. Convinced this young girl is the solution to the True Knot’s problem; they begin a trek across the US in search of her.
As stunning as she is talented, Rebecca Ferguson kills it at Rose the Hat. Rose is a truly terrifying character in King’s novel, and Ferguson’s casting proves just as terrifying in Flanagan’s film. From the moment you first meet her, befriending little Violet (Violet McGraw, The Haunting of Hill House), to her cries of anguish as her True Knot brothers and sisters begin to perish, Rose is someone you’ll love to hate.
As the True Knot gets closer, Dan works with Abra and Billy to set a trap. While initially, this appears to be a victory for our band of heroes, it’s not long before things go south, as Rose has not survived this long by being naive.
Understanding they cannot stop Rose on their own, Dan takes Abra back to the horrors of his childhood (and the bane of King’s existence), the Overlook Hotel. It’s here that Dan believes the hotel’s “guests” will be just as dangerous for Rose as it is for them, and it is also here that Flanagan goes all out in an ode to Kubrick and gives one of the most chilling (and satisfying) conclusions ever filmed.
As I stated earlier, Doctor Sleep is quite possibly my favorite film of 2019. Yes, I’ve seen the headlines, spouting off that King’s movies have reached saturation point and are, therefore, no longer relevant. Don’t buy into their bull. These deliberately obtuse headlines are designed to be nothing more than click-bait with absolutely no merit whatsoever. Ignore them like the garbage they are.
What I can tell you is this, that the recent run of films based on King’s work is at an all-time high, leaning in with a level of unprecedented quality. Be it Andy Muschietti‘s IT, or Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, to skip these films would be to deny yourself some of the most significant storytelling we’ve had in years.
DOCTOR SLEEP is in theaters now.