Dreadfully good: Doctor Sleep will keep you up at night

Stephen King’s mastery of horror continues to shine in Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, which stars Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance. Image courtesy Warner Bros. Stephen King’s mastery of horror continues to shine in Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, which stars Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance. Image courtesy Warner Bros.

The best thing you can do with a Stanley Kubrick sequel is to make it as un-Kubrick as possible. Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep, adapted from Stephen King’s follow-up to The Shining, has about much interest in recreating its predecessor as its lead character, grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), has in revisiting those events. When the story does come up, it’s with mournful regret, in the same way that Danny, a recovering alcoholic, considers taking a drink. It’s unfair that anyone should live with the burden of addiction or the sins of our parents, but it is our responsibility to right those wrongs for generations to come.

Doctor Sleep is a terrific change of pace, and the next step in Flanagan’s evolution as a horror storyteller. Though his films have their fair share of bumps in the night, his best work concerns horror of a personal, intimate nature, and the dread of being helpless against forces beyond your control. From Absentia to The Haunting of Hill House, Flanagan explores tragedy and mental illness as their own forms of horror, ones that plague us after the monsters have died and ghosts have been exorcised.

Doctor Sleep

R, 181 minutes

Violet Crown Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

The years have not been kind to Dan Torrance. He and his mother escaped their father and The Overlook Hotel, but his gift (the “shining”) is still a magnet for ghosts, demons, and evil forces. Always on the move and drowning his problems in alcohol, he finds roots and some semblance of peace in a small New England town with the help of Billy (Cliff Curtis), who gets him work and into AA. He also learns to channel the shine into a meaningful career in hospice care, where he telepathically communicates with dying patients to ease their transition with peace of mind.

The shine is far more powerful than we knew, with many variations. It can be used to communicate across the world, leading to a psychic friendship between Dan and a powerful child named Abra (Kyliegh Curran). It can also be used to manipulate others, and those who have it can be consumed by energy-eating entities known as the True Knot, led by Rose (Rebecca Ferguson). Dan, Abra, and Rose, three people who have never met, are now on a collision course. Do Dan and Abra run from Rose, or do they fight her? Would it even be possible to hide? And how do they stop this evil from preying on future generations, as the Overlook preyed on Dan?

At their most basic metaphorical level, ghosts and demons are our memories that we cannot reconcile with the life we want to live. That’s one of the reasons they’re such a reliable tool for horror stories, lingering evidence of some unspeakable transgression or hidden truth. Doctor Sleep accepts the presence of these spirits but wants to reconcile instead of hiding them, and the result is more supernatural mystery drama than scary ghost story. There is more dread in the idea that people are destined to never find peace than in the jumpiest jump scare.

Local theater listings

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema 375 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056.

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213.

Violet Crown Cinema 200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000.

See it again

Interview with the Vampire

R, 123 minutes

November 17, Alamo Drafthouse Cinema

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