Doctor Sleep review: a terrific Stephen King adaptation

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Ewan McGregor leads Mike Flanagan’s film of Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep – and here’s our review.

It’s a bold move for any filmmaker to attempt a follow-up to a Stanley Kubrick feature. Luckily, director Mike Flanagan is as bold as they come, and has proven his knack for emotive horror with Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. In Doctor Sleep, based on Stephen King’s 2013 sequel of the same name, audiences are invited back to the Overlook hotel for one more bone-chilling stay.

Now in his 40s, Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor) spends his days drinking to drown out the ‘shining,’ a desperate bid to keep the voices of his past as far away as possible. He catches a bus to the end of the line, makes a friend and rents an apartment in a small town – things start to look up.

Meanwhile, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her band of followers who call themselves The True Knot, are road tripping the country killing children who bear Dan’s same gift. “Pain purifies steam, so does fear” Rose explains. Steam is what The True Knot need to consume to live, and they have some pretty gruesome ways of getting it.

We soon move eight years into the future, where Dan is now sober and has a psychic pen pal in the form of 13-year-old Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who also shines. She writes him messages on his blackboard, it’s comforting for the both of them to know they’re not alone. But Rose soon sniffs her out and what comes next is a tense back and forth between two very powerful women.

Mike Flanagan has a knack for making you cry one minute and cower in fear the next, just one of the reasons he’s one of the most exciting directors of horror working today. Doctor Sleep features a spectacular finale that takes place in the world of Kubrick’s The Shining, but this is no imitation. Instead, Flanagan has crafted an immersive homage with equal love for the book and respect for the film that came before. Ferguson is also devilishly good here, managing to make a hippie in a top hat one of the scariest characters of 2019.

But it’s newcomer Kyliegh Curran who steals the show. In her second professional acting gig, Curran is thoughtful and assured as Abra, measuring up to the performances of some well-known names.

The pacing isn’t perfect (I’m still convinced it would have made for a more engaging series) but once you’re in the meat of it your chest will be in knots. Doctor Sleep’s last hour will have you gripping your seat so hard your fingernails will leave a dent. It’s full of feeling, imagination, and thrills, and with the seal of approval from King himself, this isn’t one to miss.

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