‘Doctor Sleep’ // Film Review: The Best Stephen King Movie of 2019

Who would’ve thought out of all the movies that have been released this year based on Stephen King’s work, Doctor Sleep turned out to be the best? Probably me. Because if we’re judging the others that came out this past year, Pet Semetary was very forgettable, It: Chapter 2 was enjoyable, but not great like its predecessor, and there hasn’t been a lot of talk about In the Tall Grass. But the need for a satisfying and memorable horror film was very much so in the form of this.

What’s the Story: Based on King’s 2013 novel that’s a sequel to The Shining, A now-adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has become an alcoholic after dealing with his shining and getting away from his problems in the process of his life. But it seems to be calling back to him when a young girl named Abra (newcomer Kyliegh Curran) also can shin like him. All the while, a woman named Rose the Hat (Rebecca Furgeson) and her cult the True Knot, who feeds off children with the same psychic powers as they do, hunt for anybody to feast on their incredible powers.

Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep (2019)

The Shining has been recognized as one of the greatest horror movies ever made, all done to perfection by Stanley Kubrick in 1980. Not my favorite, but it’s superb. Even though people grew to love it over time, it’s no secret to know King disliked Kubrick’s version of his story because of a lot of changes that aren’t in the novel. But I didn’t know what to expect from Doctor Sleep, even though I loved the trailers. It was probably being a little enthetic about the fact that writer/director Mike Flanagan would not only helm a sequel to The Shining but translating King’s novel that meshes both worlds together in a way that’s perfect for fans. Personally, I love Doctor Sleep in ways I didn’t think I would.

Flanagan is slowly becoming one of the most appreciated directors in the genre. This guy has stepped up his game over the past few years putting out some memorable work, which includes his Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House (still need to watch), Ouija: Origin of Evil (heard it’s good from those who hated the first movie), and Gerald’s Game, which is an underrated adaption of another source material from King. In here, he does a great job of making the vibe feel like we’re back in this world decades later, where it might not be all that pleasant or comforting. This was also beautifully shot, and he does a few scenes that re-create moments from the first movie at the Overlook Hotel that didn’t take me out of the film.

McGregor as Danny might not be the first person to think of to portray this character, but he does a great job at making us feel for this man when he’s still fighting this gifted power he has while wanting to get his life back together after a traumatizing childhood. To be fair, his dad was trying to kill him and his mother with an axe. Also, how he uses his shin was a smart move that I thought worked. Furgeson has been one of my favorite actresses for a while now, and her as Rose the Hat makes for one of the most memorable villains of the year, as it goes ahead and provide us with details about why this group of soul-sucking people does what they do. They absorb the steam-like power like crack addicts.

There have been some awesome breakout stars from this year like Roman Griffin Davis in Jojo Rabbit, Samara Weaving in Ready or Not, and now we have Curran as Abra that took me by surprise. This a young character was in Danny’s position when he was younger still discovering the shin, and it shows when she can feel distressed or in pain whenever she feels a connection. The chemistry that she and McGregor had together was excellent.

Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran in Doctor Sleep (2019)

Is it safe to say is it scary? Well, it mostly plays out like The Shining, including some easter eggs and callbacks to how certain scenes were shot. This felt like more of a psychological thriller than straight-up horror. There were a couple of jump scares in the third act that got me, but Flanagan knows that it’s all about the tension of the story that’s scary without something popping on screen to make you pee your pants. Moments where it gets creepy, or whenever Rose the Hat shows up, were well-earned and unpredictable from my perspective. Some could be turned off by the lack of scares, but they have to remember that The Shining took a while to see Jack’s descent into madness and become crazy for the good stuff to happen.

This also made me want to read the book now. Those who have read it said it was good, and though I can’t tell what changes were made from the book to the big screen, you can sense that King appreciated this more than Kubrick brought to screen 39 years ago. Flanagan doesn’t copy what made the original movie great and throwing in his style into making us feel scared of what goes inside the minds that might haunt us. I truly cared about these main characters for a large majority of Doctor Sleep and was just hoping nothing terrible happens to them. And this has a runtime of 152 minutes, which normally that would bother me when a horror movie goes on for that long. Yet, besides maybe two scenes that made it pace a bit slow, I felt like exactly two hours went by. I didn’t even realize the Flanagan also edited the film, so good for him.

It’s a surprise to walk out thinking Doctor Sleep is one of the best movies I’ve seen this year, and I wished I saw it earlier, instead of catching it before it gets taken out of theaters too soon. The story was investing throughout, the performances are top-notch, and it never had a moment that dwindled the entire film. In no way was this meant to be greater than The Shining, but one can say it was a bit close, and it’s the best King movie this year that’s able to stand on its own that fans of the original might love too.

Grade: A-


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