One of the most overlooked and underrated movies of 2019. Doctor Sleep is by no means “best movie of the year” quality, but it’s a fantastic movie that continues the story of Danny Torrence from The Shining. I’ve been extremely excited to see this movie not just because of its connection to the Shining, but because it stars Ewan McGregor as Danny and I’m a huge fan of McGregor. Now I haven’t seen The Shining in several years, so it’s not recent in my memory as far as specific details go but I clearly remember the basic story. I was struggling with whether or not I should watch it again before seeing this movie and I decided not to for the simple fact that I wanted to see how this movie stands on its own and whether or not I needed to watch The Shining before watching this. I also haven’t read the books for either so I don’t have any previous knowledge of them going in as well.
One of the most pleasant things to see in any movie is the actors fully embracing their characters and giving it their all. Of course it’s their job to do that, but there are certain movies where you can tell that the actors really embraced their roles more than usual and give you some fantastic performances. This is one of those movies. Now these aren’t awards worthy performances, but what I saw out of Ewan, Rebecca Ferguson (who plays our villain Rose), and Kyliegh Curran (who plays the young girl Abra) was a clear showing of actors who fully embraced their roles and seemed to be really enjoying what they were doing. It’s honestly a struggle deciding who played their part the best because they all did so well. The young girl was fantastic and probably gets a little bit of an edge because of her age, but I think Ferguson was the real standout as the crazy villain. Regardless the performances all together were a joy to watch.
The story and pacing were both good and bad. I really liked how the film takes a few minutes to catch us up to speed with who Danny was if we hadn’t seen The Shining in a while. It takes some footage from the original film and makes us remember where our character was when we left off while also bringing us up to speed to the older version of him. I felt that really leaning into the other people that have “Shine” was also a great way to separate itself from the original film while also expanding this world. The problem I had in the beginning was that it felt a little slow. There was a lot that happened and was set up but overall it took a while to really get me invested in the story. It wasn’t until Abra made contact with Rose in the grocery store that the story really started to pick up. It was nice seeing Danny play a father figure for Abra who has this power with no real support coming from her parents like what she was getting from Danny.
The father figure aspect plays a huge part in this movie for both Danny and Abra. On Danny’s side of it, it’s about him becoming sober in present day and working hard not to be what his father was. There’s an awesome scene towards the end of the movie at the bar where we get to “sort of” see him interact with his father and basically show that he isn’t him and that he’s not going to become him. This also comes back again when he’s chasing after Abra with the axe. It’s very reminiscent of the scene in The Shining when his father is chasing them. In this case though, Abra also plays a big part in Danny coming to realize that he isn’t his father and coming to his senses by breaking free of the control he was under. There’s a lot to enjoy here because it boils down to actual character development that we understand coming off of everything that happened in the previous film. It’s a satisfying continuation and conclusion to Danny.
On the other side of this aspect, we have Abra who doesn’t have anyone that really grasps what she’s going through. Danny was like that also if I remember correctly and it’s a cool twist to change the outcome of what this young girl becomes by the end of the movie. She has a father figure in Danny who helps her understand more of what her abilities are and it helps her become a better version of himself. In a lot of ways it’s just a passing of the torch from Danny to her. I love the ending too with the old woman in the bathtub and her going in and closing the door behind her. It harkens back to the beginning of the film when Danny does the same thing to help lock away these people in his mind. I just love how confident she is as a young girl and how she develops throughout the film to overall become a better version of himself. It’s a great character progression that makes sense when you put the two films together.
Rose is just as important in this character progression by being a worthy foe to our two heroes. A foe that embodies the fear that Danny had. I may not be interpreting it as some others do, but Rose to me always seemed like a manifestation of the fear our heroes have of losing their way with their own powers. On top of being performed extremely well, Ferguson also gives Rose a worthy presence of this fear. It’s not just that she doesn’t care to kill anyone that gets in her way, but it’s also the will to take anything from anyone out of lust and greed. She couldn’t get enough power and even when she found herself a worthy opponent, she fed off of that by not stopping to become more powerful. I just loved everything about Rose and how well she works as a villain in this story and plays off of the character development we get with Danny and Abra. In the end it’s her own list for power that pushes Danny into his final stage of understanding his own demons by unlocking all of the boxes in his mind. He understands that he has to embrace that fear in order to destroy the fear in front of him even if it means killing himself in the process.
There’s a lot to unpackage and interpret from this movie and I’m sure it can be interpreted in many different ways. I just enjoy how deep this movie really gets into its symbolism and meaning behind everything. A lot of that stems from its successful representation of both physical and mental fear. Whether it be Rose slowly killing a young boy or the actual visions we get inside of each character’s mind. Everything works in the story that’s trying to be told and shows how well physical and mental fear can strike someone so hard and be truly scary to watch.
I knew that this was going to be a horror film, but I respect how well it balances these two aspects of horror in what seems to be a sophisticated way of representing it. It would have been simple to just show blood and gore aloe jump scares to make itself like any other generic horror film, but it doesn’t. It decides to treat us, the audience, as intelligent viewers who can understand horror done in a way that isn’t so in your face but rather in a way that feels more scary than what looks scary.
This movie could have gone off the rails by trying too hard to bring in aspects from the original film. It could have been more fan service of hey look at this or oh do you remember that? And while the last act of the movie does bring us back to the hotel, it brings us back in a way that narratively makes sense. It gives us just enough to be excited about or relate back to the original film while still standing on its own. I think some of the best parts were actually with the sound and music. There’s a the sound of heartbeat that can be heard a lot throughout the film and it really amps up the feeling of the terror our characters feel. It really made my blood pressure rise because I knew something was going to happen. It’s a simple but incredibly effective use of sound and as auditory horror. The other thing was the music, and while the score overall was pretty good, it was each moment we got that original score from The Shining that really got me excited. Just something about that score when we see the hotel just feels so ominous and works perfectly.
Ultimately, this will go down for me as being one of the most overlooked and underrated films of 2019. It’s a true sequel to an old classic that manages to stand on its own without relying too much on what happened in the previous film. It has excellent direction for the majority of the film and some truly great performances. I was excited to see it and I actually ended up liking it more than I thought I would. It’s a little slow in the beginning but hits its stride and continues running with perfection all the way to the end. I couldn’t recommend this movie enough to anybody regardless of if you’ve seen the first film or not. And if you haven’t seen The Shining, then this movie will likely make you want to go back and watch it to see where the story began. I for one am certainly going to be rewatching The Shining because of this movie. I think I’m the years to come, this movie will be more noticed as a diamond in the rough and will get more praise and notice than it has now.
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