‘Doctor Sleep’ understands recovery, but slightly misses mark

Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” has kept its top-shelf status in the annals of horror film history rightfully for almost 40 years now. Though it has been denounced by the author of its source material, Stephan King himself, the film community and beyond has never not recognized it as an important technical work and a chilling meditation on the powers of abuse in all of its destructive forms.

Its legacy is so deeply rooted that to try to add on to it would be a very bold, if not potentially terrible, move. Thankfully in the case of “Doctor Sleep,” the legacy is held firmly in the hands of modern horror maestro Mike Flannigan, who pays his respect, but also isn’t afraid to play with it.

Based off King’s 2013 sequel novel, “Doctor Sleep” follows a now grown-up Danny Torrence (played very sensitively by Ewen McGregor) still reeling from the horrific events that occured with his family at the Overlook Hotel. He abuses drugs and alcohol and maintains a disregard for human life in an attempt to suppress his “shine” (a term coined for his telekinetic abilities). However, Danny is offered a second chance when he telekinetically crosses paths with Abra Stone (played by fantastic newcomer Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who also has shine and is being hunted the ruthless Rose the Hat (a sensuously terrifying Rebecca Ferguson) and her True Knot cult, who prey on children with shine. What ensues is an epic and emotional, albeit uneven, journey about confronting your abuse and trauma and reclaiming yourself over it.

Last year, Flannigan mastered using horror as a form of emotional catharsis in his magnum opus Netflix miniseries “The Haunting of Hill House” and the strength and patience he showed there (and in all his other films for that matter) is perhaps the best quality “Doctor Sleep” has going for it. At a somewhat bloated runtime of 152 minutes, Flannigan really takes his time piling the aura of dread and terror on top of the audience, but he never underestimates the driving fractured humanity of his lead characters.

Danny and Abra make for a fantastic pairing as a mentor/mentee duo bonded by and on the run from something that they don’t entirely understand. That fear and questioning of what is unknown within ourselves is a major driving force in this film. While the gore and cheap startles really failed to land an impact for basically all of the film, the film’s more metaphysical dynamics and themes were what I found ringing inside my head during and long after the film. One moment in particular near the loud and eye-rollingly nostalgic denouement of the film involving a confrontation with an apparition of Jack Torrence has an emotional tension with such a tight vice grip that I found myself close to tears.

And while Flannigan may find himself sacrificing the compactness and narrative economy of his film in a victory-less battle between trying to simultaneously respect two industry titans with King and Kubrick, he accomplishes something much greater than building on the legacy of others: He firmly establishes his own cinematic identity. His utilization of space and everything from sound design, lighting and editing (tremendous use of fades) are a reassurance of why someone like him would and should be given a film of this scale.

While undeniably messy and flawed, “Doctor Sleep” is an unmistakably ambitious and disarmingly heartfelt film about recovery, redemption and acceptance. It’s a terrifying treat for the eyes and ears that should be experienced on the biggest screen possible. Both King and Kubrick purists should be able to walk away with a weight lifted off their shoulders and the new promise of an established shining voice in the entertainment industry.