What to watch this Thanksgiving break: “Doctor Sleep” review tells all

A thrilling, visually stunning sequel to one of the greatest horror narratives of all time

Steven King’s “Doctor Sleep,” a novel released in the fall of 2013, received rave reviews from critics and fans alike, and is now recognized as one of King’s greatest sequels ever written. Six years later, “Doctor Sleep” (2019) has made its way onto the big screen with equally positive reviews across the board, continuing the journey of little Danny Torance from “The Shining” after the events of the original book/film. Truth be told, the film still deviates from its source material quite a bit, much like Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980). 

However, despite any changes made, both the original “The Shining” and “Doctor Sleep” hold up to be a pair of fantastically acted and well-produced horror films, with an expertly-wound story, world building and terrifying, blood-curdling visuals. If you’re looking for something to go and see over Thanksgiving break, this film should be on the top of your list.

Set well over 30 years after the events told in “The Shining,” the film follows protagonist Danny Torrance (acted by Ewan McGregor) as he stumbles his way through adult life, struggling with alcoholism and drug abuse, much like his father. The film begins with a handful of flashbacks, chronicling Dan’s life with his mother after the events that took place at the Overlook hotel in the winter of 1980. Despite receiving a settlement from the owners of the hotel for their troubles (you know, Danny’s father going mad and chasing him and his mother around with an axe and all) Danny lives in a small apartment with his mother. He still finds himself afflicted with visions of ghosts and spirits that have continued to haunt him, due to his ability to ‘shine.’ 

Fast forward 30 years to 2011, we see that Danny (now simply ‘Dan’) has grown up— living alone, getting into fights at bars and waking up in less than savory places. Despite him learning the ability to lock ghosts that haunt him in mental prisons, Danny is still struggling with the demons of his past. All of that changes, however, when Dan makes the decision to move up north and go cold-turkey. Soon, his ability to shine (previously dulled by his alcoholism) returns, and Dan begins to make his way back into the world of the supernatural with the help of a psychic penpal, named Abra. With Abra’s abilities also awakening in her youth, the pair begin to be hunted by a group known as the True Knot, a quasi-immortal cult of psychic vampire-like beings who steal and feed off the ‘shine’ Dan and Abra possess.

The casting of “Doctor Sleep” is likely one of the film’s strongest qualities, with the likes of Ewan McGregor (“Star Wars,” “Trainspotting”) and Rebecca Ferguson (“The Greatest Showman,” “Mission Impossible: Fallout”) taking the lead roles of Dan Torrance and Rose The Hat, the leader of the True Knot. The star of the show, however, is Kyliegh Curran— the actress that plays Abra— who absolutely shines on screen (pun very much intended), and has already proven herself to be one of the greatest child actresses working today. 

Aside from the on-screen talent, the visual effects department for “Doctor Sleep” held nothing back when crafting some of the insane and beautiful visuals the movie showcases. Whether they be elaborate, psychic dream sequences of flying across a night sky or maybe the gruesome and terrifying visual effects of the True Knot members meeting their demise, the visuals for the film are as stunning as the story, which proves to be a true and worthy successor to “The Shining.” 

“The Shining” provided audiences with a visceral, dark (and often puzzling) story that was critiqued, analyzed, and theorized about for decades to come. While there are some similarities in the structure and ‘easter-eggs’ that “Doctor Sleep” contains, this newer film is not nearly as open-ended or purposefully obtuse as its successor. 

Regardless, this does not at all detract from the films overall quality, as it is everything that a Shining fan could want, and more. Ferguson and McGregor’s performances are some of the best of their careers, and are a delight to watch on screen together, or at the side of breakout star Kyliegh Curran. The soundtrack calls back numerous times to the classic, dark synth-bass tones of “The Shining,” only furthering any fan’s excitement and expectation of terror. “Doctor Sleep” is a film best watched in the theatre, and is an incredible movie-going experience for any fan of “The Shining” or horror films as a whole.

~Ben Sties, Staff Writer~

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