Doctor Sleep – 2019

Written and Directed by Mike Flanagan
Based on the book by Stephen King
Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClamon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe, Zackary Momoh, Henry Thomas, Roger Dale Floyd

In the pantheon of stories on film that are better than their predecessor, 2019 gives a surprising entry with Doctor Sleep. Taking place very carefully on the line between King’s original book and the movie made by Stanley Kubrick, Flanagan has pulled off something remarkable. Those who love the book, the movie or both will be happy to find Flanagan has stayed faithful to both.

The film starts with Danny Torrance (Floyd) and his mother Wendy (Essoe) in Florida after the events of The Shining. Danny can still see the spirits that haunted him at The Overlook, and he still communes with Hollarhan (Lumbly). His old friend is now a mentor of sorts, teaching the boy how to survive with his gift.

An older Danny (McGregor) has hidden himself, his gifts and his pursuers within the plague of alcoholism, which has turned him into somewhat of a monster. His conscience eventually pushes him to make some important life changes. As he begins his new life, he gets a message from a new friend he won’t meet again for eight years.

In another part of the world, Rose the Hat (Ferguson) heads a group of cultists who search for children who possess psychic ability. Sometimes they incorporate them into members. Mostly, though, they just feed off of their fear and pain, kind of like vampires would blood.

It’s inevitable that the two should cross paths, but how they do provides a fascinating second act. The abilities of the various members of Rose’s group are interesting as their tactics are horrifying. There are moments that are truly tragic and will be hard for some to watch. It is an important piece of information that will guide the emotional path of the viewer through the last act.

There is a thrill to the last act in watching Danny and his friend Abra (Curran). Traditional tropes are pushed aside (save one involving Curtis) and there is a show of strength that makes the odds a bit more even…and interesting. The surprises are pleasant and give a unexpected satisfaction. The conclusion is a beautifully painful symmetry.

McGregor and Ferguson are great as opposite ends of the spiritually kinetic spectrum. Danny is a weak man, learning to become stronger as he travels on his journey. His friendship with Curtis’ Billy is an important building point on that path.

Ferguson, always capable in appearance, is terrifying. She has the charisma, intellect of Randall Flagg from The Stand. She is as straightforward as she is ruthless. She has everything you want and nothing you should want.

The biggest surprise of the film is Curran. She is young, powerful and good. In a crucial moment we find she’s not helpless and not altogether scared. The character is a well-acted change of pace for the Mary Sue trope.

This is one of the best films of the year and certainly more fun than one could fairly expect to have enjoyed, even with Flanagan at the wheel. He’s on a run of gems at the moment and he may turn out to be the best translator of King’s work. Even better than Frank Darabont. Using an economy of prose and scenery, the director skillfully crafts story filled with developed characters, some with fewer than three scenes.

If you think you might like this film, you will. It’s what a second movie should be: pushing the story forward without treading over the same old ground. Even if it ends in the same place.

(****1/2 out of *****)

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