'Doctor Sleep' review: An excellent slow-burn thriller

Photo: YouTube

Doctor Sleep (A)

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran

Score: 4 out of 5

The Shining, Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of Stephen King's legendary novel, was ahead of its time. Loaded with a solid cast, a great setting and a bunch of disturbing scenes that have since been etched into pop culture, the film was considered by many to be one of the greatest horror films of all time. Now, over 20 years later, its sequel has arrived on the big screen, and it more than lives up to its predecessor.

Danny Torrence is a troubled man, haunted by the ghosts of the Overlook and driven by the same demons that took his father, Jack, all those years ago in the old hotel. He moves from place to place, gets drunk and in fights, all in an effort to suppress his Shine.

On the other side, there is the True Knot, a group of seemingly immortal hunters, led by Rose the Hat. The Knot lives off torturing and killing people with the Shining and taking it in the form of a steam

In the middle of all this is Abra Stone, a young girl with the Shining, who knows she has it and actively uses it to interact with Danny, and ends up getting into the crosshairs of the Knot after a particularly violent episode in which she witnesses them kill a kid.

Doctor Sleep is a brutally honest film. It cooks slowly, much like its predecessor, letting itself get comfortable with its characters before putting them together in the same frame in the most amazingly weird ways. At one point, Abra and Rose get into what is essentially a game of tag in each other's minds, and it's in moments like that where the film truly shines.

The main characters are a very colourful bunch. There's Danny, of course, who has struggled most of his childhood and his adult life by keeping his head down, using the Shining only to help the dying to their rest, which earns him the nickname "Doctor Sleep". He fears his power and makes a point to not use it as much as possible.

Abra, for all intents and purposes, is his mirror. She's inquisitive and curious and like a typical child, easily frightened but filled with growing resolve. She's the hopeful youngster to Danny's troubled, pessimistic mentor. Think of the relation between Danny and Abra, in some ways, like the relation between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker, only rather reversed.

Rose the Hat, the leader of the True Knot, is a positively detestable character. Unlike most of the Knot, she clearly lives for the hunt, and the reward, the steam they get from their prey, is just a byproduct of the hunt.

Doctor Sleep is a classic horror-thriller, thriving on the idea of a slow-burn buildup and a decisive payoff. There's no room for sequels, even though some might be hinted, and the story opens and closes on its own merits. Like its predecessors, it delves into the psyche of its characters, drawing clear lines on who stands where and why anyone does anything, leaving nothing to chance.

Doctor Sleep is driven not only by its characters and method of storytelling, it is also powered heavily by its camerawork. It uses a number of sleight-of-hand tricks and trippy angles to drive the idea that its central characters are essentially superpowered beings fighting each other in a life-or-death game. It is the kind of film thriller and horror fans have waited for, and it more than delivers for both newcomers and fans of The Shining.

For all its camera trickery and character use, however, the film is ultimately about the idea of purpose and hope, and how it can be found in the smallest of things like helping people pass quietly in a hospice to saving a little girl from an ancient hunter in the bowels of your own demons. Doctor Sleep is a worthy sequel to The Shining, and perhaps it will be regarded as greater than it in the days to come.

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