I was skeptical that Stephen King's 36-year-delayed sequel to his seminal "The Shining" was simply the work of an author out of ideas and looking to cash in on old glories. Turns out that book, "Doctor Sleep," is pretty fantastic, and offers an interesting progression of the Danny Torrance character as an adult still struggling with his gift of "shining." Director Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil) has now adapted that novel into a feature film starring Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson. Flanagan's film, which he also wrote, is a slow-burn thriller with strong performances and an interesting story about a cult of undead vampires who feed off children to remain immortal. Now available on Blu-ray in both its theatrical cut and a lengthier director's cut, Doctor Sleep is a strong modern horror tale.
In the months after his traumatic childhood experience at the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd as a child and McGregor as an adult) is haunted by visions of the hotel's guests, including the decaying Woman in Room 237. He is visited by the spirit of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who encourages Danny to create boxes in his mind to lock the starving spirits inside. Years later, an adult Danny uses alcohol to blunt his shining and hops around from bed to bed and job to job. After hitting rock bottom, Danny begins working at a hospice home, where he uses his gift to soothe dying patients. Danny receives an unexpected telepathic communication from Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl gifted with the shining whose powers are infinitely greater than Danny's. Simultaneously, Rose the Hat (Ferguson), the leader of the True Knot cult, searches for children with the shining power to torture and murder so that her undead followers can survive. When Abra senses the murder of a young boy (Jacob Tremblay), she calls out to Danny for help, which also alerts Rose to her powers.
Had King simply rehashed "The Shining," his follow-up likely would not have been so satisfying. I commend the popular author for taking the story in a completely different direction, while bringing Torrance back into the fold. This film is also a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick's brilliant adaptation of the original novel, and there are plenty of call backs to both the novel and film. That is also one of the film's weaknesses, as it is hard not to compare this film and its source to their predecessors. "Doctor Sleep" might have existed as a standalone novel, but I enjoy the way King weaves stories from "The Shining" into the material, a technique that brought King later success in novels "Mr. Mercedes" and "The Outsider" with the Holly Gibney character. Is Doctor Sleep the film as good as The Shining? No, but did you really expect it to be? That said, Flanagan has created an excellent film in its own right that never becomes bogged down trying to live up to Kubrick's classic. Hearing the opening tones in The Newton Brothers' score brought a smile to my face, as they mirror the classic tones of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind's work in The Shining. The Overlook also makes an extended appearance here, and Flanagan chooses to set the film's climax in a still-standing Overlook rather than a campground atop the site of a razed Overlook as in the novel.
I really like Ferguson here. She is fantastic as lethal gypsy Rose and nails everything from the look to her personality and movements. If I could have translated that character from the book, this is exactly how I would have wanted it. It is a testament to Ferguson's acting abilities that Rose does not become a completely abhorrent character. She is frightening and cunning, but quietly defeated, as the True Knot has fallen from former glory. While she is kidnapping, torturing and killing children, it does not go unnoticed that she is doing this so her entire kind can survive. When Grandpa Flick (Carel Struycken) begins to "cycle" and die, Rose urges him to be strong, as he has survived centuries, witnessed wars and triumphs, and holds knowledge enough to surpass all fear. Zahn McClarnon also stars as cult member Crow Daddy, Rose's lover and enforcer, and Rose turns Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind) early in the film to make use of her ability to psychically control people. The greater a child's shining powers the more "steam" they release, which in turn provides greater nourishment for the cult. Rose astral projects across the globe in several visually stunning sequences to search for food, and Abra becomes an instant target. Rose does not anticipate Abra's resolve, and she has her own mind tricks that can injure Rose and slow her assault.
When Danny and Abra first meet up on a park bench, Danny has a humorous line about the optics of a child and strange man being alone together in a park. He soon realizes that Abra is worth saving when she reveals the power of the True Knot, including a recent child murder. One of the film's most horrifying scenes is the aforementioned murder of a young boy after a baseball game. I did not anticipate such a powerful cameo from Tremblay, the best known child actor here thanks to roles in The Predator and Good Boys, and Flanagan does not shy away from the violence. That was very present in the novel, too, and King has always placed children in the path of ancient evil. I think setting the climax inside the dilapidated Overlook was probably the right choice visually, as it makes for a strong setting and gives Flanagan the opportunity for a few more visual throwbacks. At 2.5 hours (3 hours in the director's cut), Doctor Sleep is a lengthy film, but I found it wholly entertaining and completely engrossing. I prefer the lengthier director's cut, as it allows the characters to be further developed. I also applaud Flanagan for steering away from easy jump scares and instead creating slow-burn tension, dread and atmosphere to complement the strong performances. King had a monumental task following up his novel, and Flanagan had big shoes to fill adapting it in the shadow of Kubrick's original masterpiece. I am pleased to report that Doctor Sleep represents its heritage well while telling its own worthy, frightening and unique story.
A reader asked for a bit more detail on the differences between the theatrical and director's cut of Doctor Sleep: There are additional scenes early on with Young Danny and Hallorann; further exploration of adult Danny's substance abuse issues; and the film spends more time with Abra and her family, depicting some of her special abilities. The True Knot is given more screen time, and their motives are better developed. In the climax, adult Danny has an extended conversation with Jack Nicholson lookalike bartender Lloyd, and the ghosts manifest themselves differently. My favorite addition in the Director's Cut is that the film is divided into six chapters like a book. Check out Movie Censorship's comparison for an exhaustive list of differences. I can't directly link it, but it's easy to find using the site's search bar.
Each cut receives a 1.85:1/1080p/AVC-encoded transfer on its own disc. The image here is fantastic throughout. Viewers searching for depth, detail and "HD pop" will find it here, as this image provides ample fine-object detail and texture and gorgeous, crisp wide shots. Take note of the detail in Rose the Hat's costume and in the interiors of the Overlook, as well as the stunning astral projection sequences. Colors are bold and perfectly saturated, and skin tones are spot-on. Contrast is also strong, and blacks are inky. I noticed very minor black crush and a bit of shimmer in one or two dimly lit sequences, but these issues are fleeting. The digitally sourced image looks great in motion, and this is a very strong HD showing from Warner Brothers.
The Dolby Atmos mix, which I sampled as a 7.1 Dolby TrueHD soundtrack, is near-reference quality. There are plenty of atmospheric and action effects throughout the duration of the film, and these make use of the entire sound field. The LFE is called upon frequently to support the low tones of the score or rumble alongside the action. Dialogue is crisp and clear, sound pans are natural and expansive, and all elements are appropriately balanced. English, Portuguese, Spanish and French 5.1 Dolby Digital mixes are included, as are English SDH, French, Portuguese and Spanish subtitles.
PACKAGING AND EXTRAS:
This two-disc set is packed in a standard case that is wrapped in a matte slipcover. The first disc contains the director's cut (3:00:14/HD) and the second contains the theatrical feature (2:32:01) and bonus materials. You get a couple of decent featurettes: From Shining to Sleep (4:56/HD) sees Flanagan and King discuss world building and some of the changes from novel to screen; The Making of Doctor Sleep: A New Vision (13:57/HD) offers interviews and behind-the-scenes footage; and Return to the Overlook (14:59/HD) discusses Flanagan's early memories of King's horror and how he brought that terror to life in his film.
I suspect most horror fans were cautious when cracking open "Doctor Sleep," author Stephen King's belated sequel to "The Shining." The book turned out to be great, and Mike Flanagan's adaptation is similarly successful. While Doctor Sleep honors its heritage, Flanagan crafts a worthy standalone film with excellent performances and a strong slow-burn narrative, which is improved in this expanded director's cut. Highly Recommended.