Film Review: Doctor Sleep (Dir. by Mike Flanagan)


If I asked you about Stephen King’s The Shining, would the book or the film come to mind?

DoctorSleepPosterWhen it comes to adapting Stephen King’s stories to film, it’s not an easy feat. King himself had a problem turning his own short story “Trucks” into something good when he directed Maximum Overdrive. For every great film like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, or It-Chapter One, we occasionally get a misstep like The Dark Tower or It-Chapter Two.  As King can sometimes get wordy in his books, I’ve felt the best adaptations were the ones where the director’s own vision came into play. Kubrick made a number or changes to King’s story, including the Grady twins and the hedge maze, which were never in the novel. The film is so widely recognized that most people recall events in the movie, rather than the book. That’s the effect Kubrick had. 

With Doctor Sleep, Mike Flanagan once again proves he’s a fantastic fit for King. The film moves at a great pace, with great performances by Rebecca Ferguson and newcomer Kyliegh Curran. In an age where audiences are typically quiet, the applause that occurred in scenes during last night’s preview screening were great to hear. The film manages to pay homage to Kubrick’s The Shining and King’s Novel of Doctor Sleep while still completely showcasing Flanagan’s vision. Of course, we already knew this from Flanagan taking on King’s own Gerald’s Game and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House.  One might even argue that for this film, we may in time recall Flanagan’s tale more clearly than King’s.

Doctor Sleep takes place after the events of The Shining, with Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) suffering from the same demons that plagued his father, Jack. Although the keeps to himself, he drinks too much, gets into brawls, and is unable to hold down decent work. Dan is also haunted by the Overlook Hotel, and the power that drew the souls to him known as The Shining. The Shining (or just the Shine) is a coveted power in King’s lore. When a group of nomads that feed on the Shine (in a way that’s reminiscent of Mick Garris’ Sleepwalkers) discover a girl with the same ability, Dan is brought out of hiding. 

Fans of the original Kubrick film will see there’s a lot of love here. You’ll be able to count some of the references to The Shining, from objects in a room to different locales. For casting, Flanagan uses a mixture of old favorites and new faces. You’ll recognize some of them right from the start, such as Bruce Greenwood and Violet McGraw. Others, like Jacob Tremblay (The Predator) are welcome additions. Rather than relying on footage from the original Shining, Flanagan recreates certain elements with new cast members, which I felt worked extremely well here. I’m not sure how others will take it.

Ewan McGregor is good in the role of Dan Torrance, which feels more like his Mark Renton character from Trainspotting than anything else to me.  This isn’t a bad thing, but it works. The film truly belongs to both Rebecca Ferguson (Mission Impossible: Fallout) and Kyliegh Curran. Ferguson’s Rose the Hat is a wicked villain, and she carries the role with a sinister, yet stylish flair. Ferguson has some of the best scenes in the film, particularly when paired with Zahn McClarnon (Midnight, Texas and Westworld), who plays Crow Daddy. Kyliegh Curran chews up the scenes she’s in, easily handling screen time with McGregor and Ferguson like a pro. Rounding out the cast are Cliff Curtis (Sunshine), Carl Lumbly (Mantis) and Emily Alyn Lind (The Babysitter). 


Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) can’t run from his past in Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep.

As for the fear factor, there is some terror in the hunt for Abra and the way that the group interact. Doctor Sleep doesn’t have much in the way of jump scares, but makes up for it with some tense moments. I didn’t feel as scared as I did with It-Chapter One, but I cared enough about the characters to worry about how the story was going to turn out. That might be a turn off for those expecting to watch the movie from between their fingers or run out of the theatre screaming. If you enjoyed Flanagan’s other works, such as Hush or Oculus, you’ll be fine.

Speaking of Hush, Doctor Sleep lacks a Kate Siegel cameo. Flanagan is Siegel’s partner in crime (and husband). Together, they’ve been in almost every film they’d done. I’ve gotten used to going “Oh, there’s Kate!”, while watching his films. It’s not an issue at all, but it would’ve been cool to see her.

The camera work for Doctor Sleep is very even, though there are a few special effects scenes that really stand out and picked up some applause (or gasps) once they were over. The one main drawback I had with the film was that it was a little difficult to keep up with all of the locations and time periods early on. Even though everything’s clearly labeled, it took me a moment to recognize just where and when things were occurring. Not a terrible thing, though.

Overall, Doctor Sleep is an easy film to recommend. It has some great performances, and manages to be a great follow up to The Shining, while showing a lot of love for the source material.

Doctor Sleep hits cinemas on Friday, November 8th, and I’ll make a return visit.




The Things You Find On Netflix: Hush (dir by Mike Flanagan)


Let me start by stating the obvious.  I have seen a lot of horror movies.  I love horror as a genre and, in fact, it was my love of horror that first led to me becoming a film blogger in the first place.  I have seen a lot of scary and shocking images onscreen.  I know the experience of watching a movie and screaming.  I also know the experience of watching a horror movie and being bored out of my mind.

I have also seen a lot of home invasion movies.  The home invasion genre is not a complicated one.  A group of people are isolated and trapped in their home while, outside, some terrible menace tries to enter the house.  Night of the Living Dead is a home invasion film.  The final 20 minutes of Straw Dogs (both the remake and the original) are home invasion films.  Michael Haneke made two of the ultimate home invasion films with two separate versions of Funny Games.  And, of course, we can’t talk about the home invasion genre without mentioning the brilliant You’re Next.

The home invasion genre works so well because, at its center, is a very real fear: the fear that, even within our own home, we are not safe.  When I get home, I am practically obsessive about checking to make sure that I always close and lock the door behind me but really, what good would that really do if someone was determined to get in?  Like everyone, I chose to believe that things like a locked door or a closed window is going to keep me safe but, honestly, if someone wants to get in, they’re probably going to find a way.  Locks and alarms and calls to 911 can only do so much.  Perhaps for that reason, home invasion movies always frighten me.  I can watch a zombie graphically devour someone in an Italian horror film and it doesn’t bother me at all.  But a well-directed home invasion movie?

That’ll keep me up for a week!

(And I know what you’re saying: “Lisa, if home invasion movies scare you so much, why do watch them?”  It’s a legitimate question and it’s something that I’ve often wondered myself.  I think, ultimately, it comes down to this: the only way to conquer our fears is to face them.)

With all that in mind, allow me to now come to the point of this review.  Last night, I watched Hush, which was just recently released by Netflix.  Hush is a home invasion movie.  Kate Siegel (who also co-wrote the script) plays Maddie, a writer who has been deaf and mute since she was 13 years old.  Still dealing with the a bad break-up, Maddie lives in an isolate cabin in the wilderness.  By day, she works on her second novel and occasionally visits with her neighbor.  And by night — well, on this particular night, she finds herself being watched by a man.

The Man (who is played by John Gallagher, Jr.) wears a white mask that gives him a permanent smile.  He carries a crossbow with him, a crossbow that has 8 notches on it.  When we first meet the man, he’s stabbing Maddie’s neighbor, Sarah (Samantha Sloyan), to death.  And now, he’s turned his attention to Maddie…

I say this without hyperbole: Hush is one of the scariest home invasion movies that I’ve ever seen.  The plot may occasionally seem familiar but director Mike Flanagan keeps things moving at an almost unbearably intense pace and he creates an atmosphere of such dread that you never feel truly safe assuming that anyone is going to survive the movie.  John Gallagher, Jr, who speaks with a deceptively soft voice, is terrifying as the Man.  The fact that he has no motives beyond his own sadism makes him all the more frightening.

But, ultimately, the reason the film works so well is because of Kate Siegel.  Kate Siegel gets an introducing credit in this film.  According to the imdb, Hush is not her first film but that introducing credit still feels appropriate.  Siegel is wonderful in the role of Maddie, giving a performance of such ferocity and empathy that Hush announces that a major talent has arrived and that Kate Siegel is a force to be reckoned with.

Hush is not always an easy film to watch.  The violence is visceral, the often spurting blood looks real and, when bones were snapped, it sounded disturbingly authentic.  Throughout the entire film, I found myself wondering what I would do if I was Maddie.  I cheered whenever it appeared that she might be able to escape the Man and I screamed whenever it became clear that she would not.  This is an intense and frightening home invasion film and one that all horror fans should see.  Hush captures our most primal fears and makes us wonder if we have what it takes to conquer them.

Hush will undoubtedly give me nightmares but I’ll take them.