In 2013, Stephen King wrote Doctor Sleep as the follow-up to The Shining. A book 36 years in the making, it told the story of Danny Torrance, and what happened to him after the events of The Shining, the adult he became. This weekend, director Mike Flanagan (The Haunting of Hill House) brings it to life as a movie adaptation.
Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is now a grown man, but he hasn’t put the traumatic events of his childhood at the Overlook Hotel behind him yet – nor has he learned how to deal with his considerable psychic and telekinetic powers, including telepathy and precognition, called the shining. Instead, like his doomed father, Jack Torrance, Dan chooses to drown his demons in a bottle; neither time nor trauma have been kind to him.
Eventually, he settles in New Hampshire and makes the choice to get sober with the help of his new friend, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis). Years later, now an orderly using his shine to help ease hospice patients on their way to death, Dan is clean, sober, and in control of his life and his powers, which he keeps largely in check. However, his life is upended when he meets Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with powers that exceed his own – and she’s in danger. Abra is being chased by the True Knot, a group of quasi-immortal psychics led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who feast on kids with the shine to maintain their longevity. Dan must decide if he wants to stick his neck out for a girl he barely knows and pay debts still owed, or whether to walk away.
If you’re curious about checking out the latest Stephen King adaptation to hit theaters, here are three reasons to see it this weekend.
1. Rebecca Ferguson As Rose The Hat Is Perfect Casting
Can I just take this moment to ask if we can put Rebecca Ferguson in everything? Since breaking out on the big screen in 2015’s Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation, easily stealing every scene, Ferguson’s star has been on the rise. She’s already played a villain in both this year’s underappreciated The Kid Who Would Be King and Men In Black: International, but Rose the Hat is a character that feels made entirely for her.
Villains, particularly in genre work, too often fall heavily on the side of camp, twirling moustaches or shrieking about power and how they must destroy the world. As Rose, however, Ferguson is memorable and dynamic, eschewing over-the-top cartoonishness in favor of picking her moments. She has more than a few lines that might be cringe-worthy coming from anyone else, yet Ferguson’s delivery is so uniquely her (the way she says “Alright, bitch-child” at one point is an all-timer) that it’s hard to imagine anyone else in the role without turning it into a stereotypical wicked witch trope. Rose is sultry and charming, cold and cunning, both mother hen to her tribe and Baba Yaga to children everywhere. Ferguson, who is a stunning beauty on her own, radiates competence and intelligence in her performances, no fragile flower, her. Rose the Hat takes every gift that Ferguson has and puts it on display in a performance that anchors the entire film.
2. It Explores Issues Of Addiction And Trauma In A Thoughtful Way
Doctor Sleep may be about literal demons and ghosts, but the real heart of the story is about the personal demons and ghosts of memory that haunt us. There are few actors like Ewan McGregor, a Swiss army knife actor who is so good at emanating a broken vulnerability that belies his leading man ability to quietly command a screen. Dan Torrance’s story is that of so many children of addicts and traumatic childhoods; the son of the addict becomes the addict himself. The reality of trauma is that it’s generational; it takes multiple generations to break the pattern. Danny’s grandfather drank and beat his father; his father drank and turned on Danny at the Overlook Hotel; Danny drank and then finally ended the cycle by going to AA and getting clean.
Yet, Doctor Sleep makes it clear that even then, the effects of trauma and addiction don’t end. During his lowest points and moments of stress, Dan goes right back to wanting to lose himself in a bottle; recovery is a lifelong process and the urges that drive one to addiction don’t magically go away simply because you address them. Even once he gets a handle on drinking, Dan still has to get a handle on his powers of the shine and reckon with the past that continues to haunt him.
It may seem strange to say for a director who has spent his career in horror thus far, but Mike Flanagan’s strength isn’t the jump scares or the supernatural horror. Instead, much like Stephen King himself, it’s Flanagan’s ability to mine human emotions and existential horror, the kind that comes from within, that is his strength. Flanagan’s eye for tangled emotion and McGregor’s particular ability to convey it creates a strong pairing to tell King’s addiction story that longtime readers know might as well be an autobiography.
3. It’s A Love Letter To Both Stephen King And Stanley Kubrick
Not every King fan will love this movie. That’s fair. It takes some serious liberties with the third act of the book, completely changing the ending in a way that is true to the original The Shining novel but still feels like a direct sequel to Kubrick’s movie adaptation, which itself was a wild veer away from King’s original novel. Spiritually, it’s all King; visually, it’s all Kubrick.
As a lifelong King fan, I nonetheless understood why Flanagan chose to end it in the way he did, but I also get it might not work for everyone. That’s okay; book adaptations are tricky things to get exactly right and, even when done well, someone somewhere won’t be satisfied. King fans, at the very least, should be happy about the various tiny allusions and Easter eggs dotted throughout the film (In particular, I quietly cheered when the ghost of Dick Hallorann dropped the line “Ka is a wheel” in a nod to The Dark Tower). Flanagan is clearly a fervent Stephen King fan and the love he has for his work shows, sometimes to the film’s detriment – at least 20 minutes could have been cut and it would have been fine – but I’d rather a filmmaker who loves the source material a little too much than much too little.
Doctor Sleep is in theaters this weekend. Get tickets here.