Doctor Sleep opens our eyes

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Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

If you were to go up to a random guy in the Cap Bar or the Braniff atrium and ask them what they know about movies, odds are that they’ve heard the name Stanley Kubrick in reference to his arguably greatest work “The Shining.”

Released in 1980, “The Shining” was a landmark moment for cinema, and for American culture in general. Kubrick’s obsessively crafted adaptation of one of Stephen King’s most successful and influential novels honed in on the key flaws in the foundations of our society, and masterfully transferred them into an experience that still terrifies and intrigues audiences to their core. 

Ever since Stephen King provided a sequel to “The Shining” in the form of his 2013 novel, “Doctor Sleep,” everyone from laymen moviegoers and fixated cinephiles to more casual appreciators of pop culture have been excitedly anticipating the inevitable film adaptation. 

Well, now the sequel to the nearly flawless “The Shining,” is here, and “Doctor Sleep”  justifies every ounce of hype it has received. 

Mike Flanagan, director of horror-hits such as “Oculus,” “Hush” and “The Haunting of Hill House,” takes the reigns of this project and crafts a film that perfectly balances homage to Kubrick’s work with a new story that is altogether of a different substance and style than “The Shining.”

“Doctor Sleep” has its own story to tell, and refuses to be held back by simply retreading familiar ground. 

“Doctor Sleep” follows Daniel Torrance (Ewan McGregor), the son of Jack and Wendy Torrance. Ever since the fateful events of “The Shining” transpired at the famed Overlook Hotel, Danny has had a hard time moving past his trauma and pain.His unique ability to Shine follows him like a shadow wherever he goes, making him a beacon for entities that stalk him and ensuring that Danny is never free from the evils of his family’s past. 

He finds himself following in the footsteps of his father, living day-to-day in an alcoholic fog, trying to medicate himself away from the pain of life and the pain that his Shining often brings him. 

Once Danny has a “come-to-Jesus” moment, so to speak, he realizes he has to make a change if he doesn’t want to be doomed to become his father. He leaves the city and everything he has to start fresh in the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire. 

Christian charity and willingness to start anew create a new chapter in Danny’s life, and he begins to live an honest, sober and fear-free life with his new friends. 

While Danny is freeing himself from the demons of the past, the audience learns that a cult led by Rose the Hat (played by Rebecca Ferguson) is hunting down the rare people who can Shine because they must consume the essence of those who Shine in order to survive. 

When a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who can Shine stronger than any Danny has ever encountered, finds herself to be the target of Rose and her hungry, demonic cult, Danny embarks on a mission to right the wrongs of the past and be to this girl what his own father never was — a guardian. 

“Doctor Sleep” is quite a unique experience in modern horror, particularly because it is so independent from conventions that nine out of ten horror movies seem to rely upon. Whether these are excessive gore, bump-in-the-night tropes, unearned jump scares or artificial characters and tension, “Doctor Sleep” is set apart by its precise lack of cheap parlor tricks meant to frighten, but not truly scare. 

The best of horror films are not made with terrifying images thrown onto a screen or disturbing sounds being blasted through speakers. Rather, they are stories that affect you and inspire fear in you, precisely by investing you in real problems that are innately disturbing, like alcoholism, paranoia, hunger, deterioration of a family or abuse.

The fear that one feels in this experience is not, as in most modern horror movies, something that is immediately understood or accounted for. The fear and horror crafted in “Doctor Sleep” is the conceptual kind that is slowly and subtly built up throughout the entirety of the story, leading you to question the truisms of your life. 

This is a film that will stick with you well after you throw out your popcorn bucket. 

McGregor is fantastic as Danny, delivering one of his best performances in the last decade, and Curran shows that she is one of the greatest working child actors around in this breakout role as Abra. 

Flanagan, once again, confirms that his vision and talent as a writer, director and editor are the foundations for the future of conceptual, narrative-based horror. “Doctor Sleep” is one of the last nails in the coffin for cheaply made and poorly conceived horror films that found their main audience in stoned teenagers. 

Don’t go to this film expecting it to be stylistically identical to “The Shining,” or to answer all of your questions from that film — it won’t. “Doctor Sleep” has its own merits and style and should be judged independent from its predecessor. 

In the way of realistic criticism, the only permissible critiques of this film are that the narrative structure of the first act can be confusing at times, leading unseasoned viewers astray from the more powerful thematic elements of the story. Every other criticism would have to be a visual or narrative nitpick that would make for a great conversation about the film, but ultimately would be unable to diminish the effect and quality of the work. 

Flanagan crafts a warmer film than Kubrick did, and perhaps creates a more relatable, graspable and human vision of the themes so thoroughly layered into Kubrick’s work. 

“Doctor Sleep” is ultimately a beautiful film about how humans are meant to live, why we develop meaningful relationships and why all of us should be unafraid to Shine, despite all the evil in the world. 

After all, what is all the evil in the world, but nothing at all?

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