Mike Flanagan

Doctor Sleep

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It’s been many years since the events at the Overlook Hotel. Dan Torrence is all grown up and battling his own demons. He meets a young girl named Abra, who also “shines.” When a deadly cult called The True Knot comes for Abra and her power, it is up to Dan to protect her.

Writer and director Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game, Haunting of Hill House) once again shows he is a master of storytelling and filmmaking. To be clear, I have not read either The Shining or Doctor Sleep, so I do not have the context other Stephen King fans have. From what I understand, Flanagan’s adaptation of King’s Doctor Sleep honors King’s work while also incorporating elements of Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, which many horror fans cherish. Even more amazing is how Flanagan still creates a film with his unique stamp on it. Both in terms of stylistic choices and the emotional content, there is no mistaking Flanagan’s work.

Doctor Sleep expands upon the mythology fans know and love from The Shining. We get to see a bit of what happened to Danny and Wendy not long after the events at the Overlook Hotel. Then there are multiple time jumps to when Dan is an adult. It is then that the audience is introduced to Abra and her powers. We also meet The True Knot cult of individuals with powers who want to be immortal. The leader of the group, Rose the Hat, is as beautiful as she is dangerous. When Rose sense’s Abra’s power, she becomes determined to find the girl. Much of the mythos of this film focuses on Dan, Abra, and Rose. Dan and Abra help the audience learn a bit more about the shining and those who have abilities. Rose introduces a new set of individuals with different abilities who essentially want to eat those who shine. The film even expands on the mythos of the Overlook Hotel and the permanent inhabitants Dan encountered as a child.

One thing that was arguably lacking in Kubrick’s film that Flanagan’s film has in abundance is heart. This is most evident in how Doctor Sleep deals with trauma and addiction. Between the burden of his shining and the horrific events he experienced at the Overlook, it’s no wonder Dan has many demons. He grows up suppressing his gift and compartmentalizing the trauma of his past, which leads to alcohol addiction. We meet adult Dan at his worst and when he begins his quest to overcome his addiction, but it isn’t until he meets Abra that he is truly forced to take a hard look at himself and his past. While the supernatural aspects of the film are likely what will bring in audiences, as well as King’s name, it’s Dan’s character arc and his struggle for sobriety, acceptance, and self-discovery that will stick with you long after the film has ended.

The entire cast of Doctor Sleep is perfect in their roles. There are so many superb performances it’s hard to narrow it down to just a few standouts. Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge, Trainspotting) stars as adult Dan Torrence. We all know McGregor is a phenomenal actor, but this might be one of his best performances yet. The way he conveys Dan’s struggles with his past as well as his battle with alcohol is stunning. There is one specific scene at the climax of the film where those struggles culminate in a truly heart-wrenching way and McGregor gives the scene his all. Young newcomer, Kyliegh Curran (I Can I Will I Did), absolutely dazzles as Abra. In many ways she is the polar opposite of Dan. She cherishes and practices her power, although she does try to hide it from her parents. Abra is such a strong character despite her young age and Curran is perfect in the role. Curran and McGregor play off of each other very well and create a striking juxtaposition between Abra and Dan. Then there is Rebecca Ferguson (Life, Mission: Impossible – Fallout) as Rose the Hat. As soon as she is on screen Ferguson has a powerful presence that demands your attention and fills the screen. Rose can appear disarmingly warm and kind, but she quickly shows her darker, cutthroat side. Ferguson makes Rose the Hat an iconic and memorable villain. As I said, many of the other actors deliver great performances, but there are too many for me to give honorable mention to. Suffice it to say, everyone is amazing.

Doctor Sleep does a great job of being it’s own story separate from the events from The Shining. Yet it is vital to note the scenes Flanagan recreated from Kubrick’s film and the absolutely perfect casting for those recreations. With the exception of a couple exterior shots, each scene from The Shining is an exact replica with new actors. The fact that Flanagan was able to so perfectly recreate these scenes is already astounding, but it’s the casting that stands out. Some of this amazing casting I will keep a secret for those who are planning on seeing the film as it relates to a pivotal scene in the film. A few casting choices I will talk about are Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes, Tales of Halloween) as Wendy Torrence, Roger Dale Floyd (The Painter, Kronos) as young Danny Torrence, and Carl Lumbly (A Cure for Wellness, Men of Honor) as Dick Hallorann. Each of these actors perfectly embodies the characters from The Shining from the way they talk to their mannerisms without feeling like a caricature. At times it’s even difficult to tell the difference between these actors and the ones they are imitating. It’s not only a testament to their talents, but it also serves as evidence that casting great actors who look like characters/actors is much more effective than implanting a CGI replica of the original actor.

Every single artistic aspect of Doctor Sleep is meticulous and purposeful to create a gorgeous film. Right away audiences will likely notice the stunning set design and cinematography. From the recreations of Kubrick’s film to the entirely new world created throughout the film, there is so much beauty filling the screen that it is impossible to look away. It all speaks to Flanagan’s signature style, even down to the overall green coloration of much of the film. There is also a fantastic mix of practical and CGI effects. Most of the physical wounds and injuries are done with very realistic practical effects. The CGI is most evident when powers are being used and in various dream-like sequences. The dream-like sequences also utilize forced perspective and rooms that move and turn to create striking imagery.

Doctor Sleep is a stunning film that seamlessly combines the supernatural with trauma and addiction. Flanagan yet again delivers a film that is as visually striking as it is unsettling and emotional. He clearly took great care to blend King and Kubrick’s work, while still making the film his own. The storytelling, the expansion of the mythology, and the beauty of the film are incredibly well done. McGregor, Curran, and Ferguson, along with the rest of the cast, deliver striking performances fans won’t soon forget. Honestly the only negative thing I can say about the film relates to a couple characters who die, but I can’t get into details without giving things away. Luckily, the rest of the film is practically flawless. I can honestly say Doctor Sleep is now one of my top 5 favorite Stephen King adaptations, if not my favorite. This is a film fans need to experience on the big screen, so be sure to catch it in theaters while you can.

OVERALL RATING: 9/10

Before I Wake

before i wake

A young couple lost their son in a tragic accident. As a way to cope with their loss they decide to adopt an orphaned young boy. Little does the couple know that this is no ordinary child. Everything he dreams becomes real while he sleeps. It can be beautiful, but his nightmares become just as real as his dreams. The couple must discover the boy’s mysterious past in order to save his life, and their own.

This film built a lot of anticipation for horror fans. It was meant to be released back in 2015, and there were even trailers out as far back as four years ago. Unfortunately, the filmmakers had troubles with the distribution company, and this led to the film being held in legal red tape for far too long. Finally, Netflix was able to get their hands on the film and release it for streaming this year. Between the years of delays and writer/director Mike Flanagan’s previous success with Occulus, people were understandably excited to finally see Before I Wake.

Flanagan created a very interesting and unique story with this film. So many people wish their dreams could come true, but this is a very unique take. The boy doesn’t get to reap the benefits of his dreams coming true, as they only come true while he sleeps. Also, many people don’t take into consideration that, by having their dreams come true, this likely means their nightmares will come true as well. While this is a very interesting, and often frightening concept, what brings the plot to another level is how the couple reacts to the boy’s ability. Losing a child is difficult. When the boy dreams of their son and they are able to hold him again, it’s only natural that the mother would want the boy to dream more about her deceased child. It isn’t until they finally see what happens during the nightmares that the mother realizes she needs to find out how or why this is happening. It makes for a frightening and emotional film. While the emotional side of the film makes the story quite compelling, there are times where it comes across as overly sentimental. That sentimentality also leaves a few loose ends by the time the film ends.

With this being such an emotionally driven film, it is important for it to be well cast with strong actors. Kate Bosworth (Blue Crush, Straw Dogs) plays Jessie. What makes her performance so powerful is how Bosworth shows the struggle a mother goes through after losing a child. She clearly wants to be a good mother to her adoptive son, but the pull to see her dead child in the boy’s dreams is too seductive to ignore. Initially it makes you dislike Jessie, but Bosworth manages to make her a sympathetic character as the plot progresses. Another equally strong performance comes from Jacob Tremblay (Room, Wonder) as the adopted son, Cody. Tremblay yet again proves he is a fantastic actor, despite his very young age. He portrays a very complex character who knows the effects of his own dreams and fears what his strange ability will do to others. These two actors together make for some exceptional and emotional scenes.

A film like this would be nearly impossible to create without the use of CGI. For the most part, the CGI is beautifully done. There is one specific scene where the butterflies that Cody typically dreams about combine with Christmas lights to create fantastical and stunningly gorgeous imagery. It is when the nightmares come out that the CGI doesn’t hold up quite as well. Cody’s main nightmare is a terrifying creature who eats people. For this, the filmmakers layered CGI over an actor. While in the dark this figure is frightening, in the light it doesn’t have quite the same impact. It is the kind of creature that would be more frightening left in the shadows. However, when the origin of this creature is discovered it ends up making sense why the filmmakers chose to show it in the light.

Before I Wake is a victim of circumstance. It had a lot of buzz when the trailers were first released, but the continued delays likely made fans forget about the film over time. The film has a unique premise with beautiful imagery and strong performances. The plot can be a bit over-sentimental, leading to a few glaring plot holes in the final act, but it is still fascinating to watch. It would be interesting to see if the film would have been received differently if it had been released as planned back in 2015. While it isn’t Flanagan’s strongest work, it is definitely worth a watch.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Hush

A deaf writer is trying to finish her next novel. In order to help herself focus, she moves into a secluded house in the woods. One seemingly normal night, the unthinkable happens. A maniac in a mask begins to terrorize the writer. If she can’t find a way to escape, she might not live to see another day.

This was a film with a thrilling plot and some shocking scenes. While the idea of a woman with some kind of impairment being stalked by a psychopath has been done before, I appreciated the attempts at originality in how this film was made. One unique aspect that made this film stand out was the decision by the filmmaker to intermittently take away all sound from the film. This allowed the audience to experience intense moments the way the main character would. I also appreciated that, after the initial shock of the situation, the female lead wasn’t a helpless damsel in distress. She was a strong survivor that pushed through whatever was thrown at her. It would have been easy for the plot to have a defenseless main character, especially since she was deaf, so the simple fact the film went against that grain made it more interesting.

One aspect of the plot that bothered me a bit had to do with the villain of the story. The character himself was fine. He was cool, calculating, psychotic, and clearly enjoyed the suffering he put his victims through. My issue with him had to do with the mask. When you first see this madman he is wearing a terrifying white mask. As we have learned from many slasher films, masks give an anonymity that makes the villain more frightening. If you can’t see their face it makes it more difficult to tell what they are thinking or what they are capable of. It also make the villain seem less human, and therefore more threatening. This film chose to unmask the villain very early on in the film. While I can appreciate that this was likely an attempt to stand out from other thrillers involving masked men, it immediately made him seem less threatening. It was almost as if he went from being a menacing, mysterious evil presence lurking in the shadows to a creepy ex-boyfriend that can’t take a hint.

The star of the film, Kate Siegel (Oculus), did a fantastic job portraying the deaf writer, Maddie. When you see an actor or actress in a role where they do not speak, the way they emote is incredibly important. Siegel definitely succeeded in showing what her character was going through with facial expressions and body language. What I also found quite impressive was her ability to not react to the sounds going on around her. This is obviously an important trait of a deaf character. There would be loud noises happening feet from Siegel’s character, and she wouldn’t even flinch or make the slightest indication she could hear what was happening. John Gallagher Jr. (10 Cloverfield Lane, Newsroom) was also great as the man terrorizing Maddie. As I mentioned before, he wasn’t quite as frightening as you expect a character like this to be, but that was more to do with the loss of the mask than his acting abilities. In fact, just like when I saw him in 10 Cloverfield Lane, I didn’t even recognize him in this film. Gallagher has an incredible ability to immerse himself in a character to the point that I don’t even recognize him.

Hush is an intense film that makes some attempts at re-imagining your typical thriller, but it is a film with its flaws. There are parts that made the film quite unique, such as the total loss of sound at certain scenes and how the filmmakers chose to show Maddie’s internal thoughts. On the other hand, I believe the unmasking happened a bit too early in the film. It made the film lose some of its intensity early on and made scenes that could have been scary fall a bit flat. Looking past the flaws, Hush was still enjoyable to watch and had moments that made me gasp. Viewers that have a certain level of empathy will likely enjoy this film more than others.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10