Thursday, July 25, 2024

‘Doctor Sleep’ illustrates Stephen King well

Hollywood is haunted by all of its biggest successes and the evidence is clear in the number of sequels being made.

“The Shining” is the latest to receive a sequel.  “Doctor Sleep,” based on Stephen King’s 2013 novel, follows a grown-up Danny Torrence, played by Ewan McGregor, whose traumatic childhood has shaped who he is today.

In “The Shining,” the audience learns that Torrence is not like everyone else; he has psychic abilities that are referred to as “the shine.” In “Doctor Sleep,” Torrence comes in contact with another person who shines. Her name is Abra, played by Kyliegh Curran, and she is being hunted by a cult called The True Knot.

Led by Rose the Hat, played by Rebecca Ferguson, this group travels the country to hunt down people with the shine and cannibalize them.

Written, edited and directed by Mike Flanagan, this adaptation only makes sense coming from him.

In 2017, Flanagan adapted a lesser-known King story, “Gerald’s Game” for Netflix with gore that churned stomachs. Then in 2018, Flanagan’s Netflix mini-series “The Haunting of Hill House” became a binge-watched hit with rich interpersonal drama that was accentuated by the ghosts that haunted the central family.

While there are some blood spilling moments, “Doctor Sleep” excels because it finds the horror in the uncanny, not the loud jump scares.

The real core of the story is about how Torrence is able to beat his alcoholism, find a form of redemption through Abra and confront his past. McGregor brings a sense of doggedness to his character’s alcoholism that goes further than just a scraggly fake beard.

This is Curran’s mainstream debut and her screen presence would have you believe otherwise.

As a character who is discovering her own powers and a supernatural world, her self confidence is exciting. She easily becomes a character that you root for.

Now, this had a slim to none chance of being better than its predecessor. King was notoriously unhappy with “The Shining,” but it is heralded as one of the greatest horror movies of all time.

Stanley Kubrick exercised his notoriously meticulous direction to evoke the feeling of cabin fever. “Doctor Sleep” doesn’t lose its connection to its predecessor completely, but the first film’s elements still haunt the sequel.

King’s library has provided the entertainment industry with endless adaptation opportunities. His very first cinematic adaptation was Brian De Palma’s “Carrie” (1976) which then received a remake in 2013 starring Chloë Grace Moretz.

In this year alone, there have been four feature-length movies based on King’s books; “Pet Sematary,” (2019) “In the Tall Grass,” “It Chapter Two,” and “Doctor Sleep.” Hulu’s “Castle Rock,” just premiered its second season last month.

The iconic setting of The Overlook Hotel is the backdrop of the climax and thankfully it is not glamorously shot for fan service. It is there to serve the story and looks as beat up as a hotel that has been abandoned for 40 years would look. It serves as a perfect symbol of this traumatizing memory; it is barely functioning, but that does not mean it is forgotten.

The film’s most memorable moments showcase The True Knot. Flanagan and cinematographer Michael Fimognari frame the group perfectly in their introductory scene. They stand motionless, staring at the camera in a balanced composition that would please Wes Anderson. Not only can this be read as a nod toward the twin girls from “The Shining,” but it also works as a creepy visual on its own.

“Doctor Sleep” isn’t looking to reinvent the wheel, instead it has a commitment to story, character and atmosphere.

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