Occult

Bliss

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A talented painter is experiencing a creative block as an important deadline approaches. In a desperate attempt to break that block, she seeks out drugs to spark her creativity. Instead she sparks a twisted journey filled with drugs, sex, hallucinations, and blood.

Writer and director Joe Begos (Almost Human, The Mind’s Eye) brings his distinctive flare in his latest horror film, Bliss. Much like his previous films, Begos creates a stunning, 80’s-inspired film that relies heavily on complex characters, a unique plot, fantastic practical effects, and brilliant music. Bliss is a film that takes a unique look at vampirism, addiction, and obsession. The film follows Dezzy, the talented young artist who is on a tight deadline to finish her next big piece or else she will go broke. After a long time with no real progress on her latest work, she decides it’s time to hit up an old friend who can provide her with drugs that will hopefully bring artistic inspiration. After a night of drugs, drinking, and partying, Dezzy’s entire world spins out of control. Between manic episodes and drug-induced stupors, it becomes more and more difficult for her to separate what is real and what isn’t.

When it comes to vampire films, it is easy to make the connection between the need for blood and addiction. Yet I feel like Bliss really conveys the gritty, less glamorous side in a truly compelling way. This is likely because audiences see Dezzy using drugs at the same time as she experiences her more eccentric addiction. Whether this is related to the drugs she’s taking or a chance encounter with an old friend, she can’t be sure. Dezzy is obsessed with finishing her masterpiece, which makes her more vulnerable to both the drugs and the need for blood. There is a disturbing co-dependence that develops between her need for drugs and blood; the physical effects not only visible in Dezzy herself, but also on the canvas. There are a few moments where the lack of mythos around these vampires can make the rules around their existence a bit confusing. It is only really noticeable in a few scenes, but the focus is more on the addictive nature of vampirism which distracts from those moments.

Fans of Begos’ films are sure to see a number of familiar faces from his previous films. The one face in Bliss that might not be as familiar is Dora Madison (All That We Destroy, Chicago Fire) starring as Dezzy. It is impossible not to fall in love with Madison in this role. Dezzy is a bit of a mess and if it wasn’t for her artwork, she would just be another jobless hack spending what money she does have on drugs and booze. Yet, between the way Begos wrote the character and the way Madison portrays her, Dezzy is an enigmatic character audiences can empathize with as she battles addiction and her own obsession to finish her art. This is truly Dezzy’s story, but another strong female performance comes from Tru Collins (Awkward, The Price) as Courtney. She has many of the same demons as Dezzy, but she’s much more wild and unpredictable. Collins plays the character in a way where her intentions are always hidden until the last minute, making her quite unpredictable. Fans will also be pleased to see indie film favorites such as Jeremy Gardner (The Battery, The Mind’s Eye), Graham Skipper (The Mind’s Eye, Beyond the Gates), and Rhys Wakefield (The Purge, You Get Me).

Bliss is a film that assaults your senses, in the best way possible. Visually, the film has a dreaminess to it. Much of the film forces the audience to look through a haze, lending a vintage look to everything. That haze is backlit by bright neon lights, drawing the viewer’s eye to specific areas on screen. To add a bit of grit to that dreaminess, each scene takes place in dirty sets spattered with drugs and drenched in blood. Begos fans have come to expect amazing practical effects in his films and Bliss doesn’t disappoint. These effects are grotesque, realistic, and add to the visual appeal of the film. Then there is the music, which ties everything together quite beautifully. Steve More (Mayhem, The Guest) composed the fantastic score. It perfectly ties together the gritty and dreamy visuals of Bliss and compels the viewer to turn the volume up.

Bliss is a gritty, blood-soaked fever dream that perfectly blends vampirism and addiction on film. Begos wows once again by bringing his unique filmmaking style to a subgenre of horror that has been done to death, yet he manages to make it feel fresh. At times the vampire mythos is too vague, but it’s clear the focus is meant to be on the addiction. The entire film feels like a manic episode and the stunning look of the film only adds to that feeling. Madison carries the film on her very capable shoulders with some horror favorites working alongside her. A rocking musical score and amazing practical effects result in a truly gorgeous film.

OVERALL SCORE: 8/10

The Marshes

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A group of biologists venture out into the remote marshes of Australia. While conducting their research, they hear a legend of a murderous spirit that haunts the marshes. Soon they begin to hear strange noises and see things in the wilderness. Someone or something in the marsh is hunting them down one by one.

This thrilling Australian horror film is the feature-film debut of writer and director Roger Scott. The Marshes starts out slowly, taking its time introducing the audience to the key characters. It might be a bit too slow to start for some viewers, but I find this character development to be interesting as well as important. Not only does this time help to build an emotional connection to the characters, but it allows the filmmakers to plant various subtle clues that hint at what will eventually happen. This also allows the plot to gradually build suspense from multiple different angles. The scientists have to worry about sinister rednecks, the rugged environment, and something even more sinister. When things do finally turn sideways, the three researchers are thrown into a brutal fight for survival. There is plenty of suspense, violence, and gore to keep the audience at the edge of their seat.

I don’t want to spoil the movie, so I’m going to have to be very vague about my main complaint about the plot. The strange happenings are very small at first. These small events can almost be dismissed as figments of the character’s imagination, but as they increase with frequency and violence everything becomes more real. The problem is, there are moments where things either don’t make sense or it confuses what is real or imagined. If you pay attention to the clues I previously mentioned, then you might be able to figure out what exactly is going on. Yet you also need to have some very specific knowledge beforehand that isn’t explained in the film. It is likely knowledge much more common in Australia, but far less common to viewers from the US. I know this is incredibly vague, but the gist of what I’m getting at in the plot is intriguing and suspenseful, but might ultimately be confusing for many viewers. (Trust me, this paragraph will make more sense once you’ve seen the film)

The small cast of The Marshes delivers dynamic characters and great performances. Dafna Kronental (41, The Menkoff Method) shines as the lead researcher, Pria. She not only takes charge of the scientific study the trio is conducting, but she also takes charge when thrust into danger. Pria is bold in the face of injustice and danger. Kronental is absolutely brilliant in this role, and I want to see her in more roles in the future. Sam Delich makes his feature film debut as research student Will. Delich is very likable in this role. I like a man that can let a woman take charge, and Will has no problem taking orders from Pria. Then there is Mathew Cooper (Burning Kiss) who also does a fantastic job as Ben. This third researcher is a bit more prickly than his colleagues, but there is still something about the way Cooper plays Ben that still makes him endearing. All three actors play off of each other quite well and add to how much the audience cares about them.

As the film progresses, it gets surprisingly gory. The Marshes utilizes some truly fantastic and gruesome practical effects to create scenes some viewers will want to cover their eyes. Not only are the effects wonderfully done, but they create some disturbingly realistic gore to feast your eyes upon. The gorgeous setting and striking cinematography result in a gorgeous and haunting juxtaposition between the beauty of the scenery and the violence taking place.

The Marshes might be confusing to some viewers, but it still delivers a unique thriller. Scott shows that he knows how to craft a character driven plot filled with subtle details. This particular plot might not translate quite as well in different parts of the world because of those subtle details, but his talent is undeniable. The performances are fantastic, the imagery is gorgeous, and there is plenty of blood for the gore hounds. Definitely check this film out, and if you find yourself unsure of things by the time the credits roll, you know where to find me!

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

The Grudge (2020)

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When an emotional, violent crime is committed, it leaves a stain. That stain grows and festers, affecting all those who encounter it. After a woman returns from a job in Japan, a curse infects her home. It leads to a chain of horrific events and disturbing deaths. A detective will have to investigate to stop the curse and save herself from the ghosts haunting her.

January is generally considered a throw-away month for films released in theaters, especially horror films. The first horror release of January gave some horror fans hope that trend would be broken. The Grudge has a long film history beginning with the 2002 Japanese film, which spawned many sequels, and then the 2004 American remake. Now, writer and director Nicolas Pesce (Piercing, The Eyes of My Mother) has created another addition to this lucrative dynasty. Unfortunately, this latest iteration is riddled with issues. The most obvious issue is the pacing. Much like the film’s source material, the plot jumps back and forth to different periods of time beginning with the woman who brought the curse back from Japan and ending with the detective investigating it all. While audiences have seen this work, even within the frame of The Grudge films, in this version it makes the film feel like it drags. There simply isn’t enough that happens between the time jumps to keep things exciting.

For some reason, whether an artistic choice or a decision made by the producers, the film directly connects to the house fans will know from Japan. That means it also relates back to Kayako. This connection seems unnecessary in the 2020 version of The Grudge. The film ends up being a weird sequel/remake/reboot all in one. This version would have been better served to stand on its own, separate from the Japanese version. It ends up creating more confusion because there isn’t a solid mythology to build from. The first woman carried the curse back from Japan, but then it is only her ghost and the ghosts of her family we see haunting people, not the ghosts from Japan. It begs the question why the curse followed that specific woman and started a new curse in her home, but then the same thing didn’t happen to those cursed in the states. While there are many plots points that are not fully developed and various plot holes, this mythos, or lack thereof, is the most apparent.

Fans of this franchise will likely go into The Grudge expecting plenty of tension and scares. People who know me will likely know I am a huge wimp and get scared easily. If this gives any indication, I was not scared at all during the entire runtime of this film. The film relies too heavily on unearned jump scares that don’t manage to cause much jumping, and it fails to build the tension between scares as well. The Grudge also relies too much on grotesque images to attempt to elicit fear. While these practical effects to create the horrifying ghosts are beautifully done, they also come across as more of a gimmick to achieve an R rating, rather than something vital to the plot.

While the character development is lacking, the most successful aspect of The Grudge is the performances. The standout performance by far is horror fan-favorite Lin Shaye (Insidious, Room For Rent) as Faith Matheson. Faith is a woman whose physical and mental health are on a swift decline. Her interactions with the curse are somewhat unique from others, and Shaye delivers a spine-chilling performance in this role. The other two performances that are enjoyable come from John Cho (Searching, Star Trek) and Andrea Riseborough (Mandy, Oblivian). Both Cho and Riseborough do well in their respective roles, although the characters are not very well written so they come across as flat. They do the best they can with what they are given.

The Grudge lacks a solid mythos to build a terrifying story, resulting in a slow and lackluster start to 2020. Based on Pesce’s body of working leading up to this film, which consists of some great films, one can only assume he was restricted by producers. The film moves along far too slowly, fails to create the scares fans expect, and contains one plot hole after another. My one hope is that this doesn’t keep Pesce from continuing to make the kinds of films we all know he’s capable of.

OVERALL RATING: 3/10

Black Christmas (2019)

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A group of sorority sisters at a prestigious college decide to stay at their sorority house over winter break. Unfortunately for these women, the school has a sordid tradition of misogyny and racism. This holiday, that tradition involves killing female college students who are “out of line.” The sisters will have to fight for their lives if they want to make it until Christmas.

Continuing a long and delightful tradition of Christmas horror films comes Black Christmas. This re-imagining of the 1974 classic is directed by Sophia Takal (New Year New You, Always Shine), who also co-wrote the film with April Wolfe in her feature film debut. Instead of recycling the same plot of the original film, Takal and Wolfe have created a culturally-relevant thrill ride that still has some of the same spirit of the original. The film focuses on Riley, a sorority sister who has had enough of the fraternity brothers. After a scandalous Christmas performance at the frat house, the sisters find themselves in mortal danger as a masked figure attacks them in their sorority house. The mythos created around the university and the founder of the school is very interesting, albeit not as well developed as it could have been. Either way it is still very entertaining. Even though this film is a complete re-imagining of the original, eagle-eyed fans of the 1974 Black Christmas will still see a few fun nods to the original film sprinkled throughout.

This film is incredibly politically charged, definitely written for women, and it’s going to piss off a lot of men. It addresses the rampant male toxicity in the world today and how it affects women. Much of the plot, both the normal interactions and the murderous ones, involve experiences that are unique to women. The most obvious female-specific experience is the sexual harassment and assault women deal with on a daily basis. It even shows how we can’t walk down the street alone without having to be completely aware of our surroundings. Some of the more subtle interactions are likely ones most men won’t pick up on. There are references to Diva cups, periods, and vibrators that are sure to get some good laughs from the women in the audience. What I especially enjoyed about the update of this film is how it essentially lets men know women are done taking all of their shit. These women are strong, powerful, and they are done with misogynistic men trying to control and ruin their lives.

While I love the update in this Black Christmas and commend the message it sends, that doesn’t mean it’s a perfect film. One issue I have with the plot is a lack of character development. Aside from Riley and maybe one other sorority sister, it doesn’t feel like the audience really gets to know the women very well. Another aspect that felt unnecessary is the character of Landon. While the character is nice and the performance is great, his character felt like an afterthought. It was almost as if the studio asked the filmmakers to include at least one guy to fit into the “not all men” category. Finally, I feel like Cary Elwes (The Princess Bride, Kiss the Girls) was greatly underutilized. It’s obvious from the beginning that he isn’t a good guy, and we’ve seen in him a great villain in past films, but his character just doesn’t quite reach that same malevolent level fans will likely want and expect.

Each of the women in Black Christmas deliver great performances of complex and strong females. Imogen Poots (Green Room, 28 Weeks Later) stars as Riley. She is a survivor of a sexual assault and doubly strong because she persevered despite not being believed. Poots does a fantastic job of conveying Riley’s trauma and how it has changed her, but she is also able to be strong and powerful with the help of her friends. Aleyse Shannon (Charmed, Instinct) stars as Riley’s sorority sister, Kris. Kris is a very political character and a clear fighter who isn’t afraid to speak her mind. Shannon is great at exuding confidence as Kris while also being a great support system for her sisters. Honorable mention goes to Lily Donoghue (Jane the Virgin) as Marty, Brittany O’Grady (Above Suspicion), and Caleb Eberhardt (The Post) as Landon.

To keep up with the legacy of the original film, this Black Christmas had to be sure to have some great visuals. For one, the lighting in this film is phenomenal. There is a lot of great use of Christmas lights to draw the viewer’s eye while also creating gorgeous color play on the screen. While I feel as though the filmmakers shied away from showing the kills a bit too much, they did find a clever way to show some gore within the constraints for the PG-13 rating. I will leave this as a bit of a surprise since it relates to hidden aspects of the plot, but suffice it to say there is at least a bit of gore for the gore-hounds out there. Earlier I mentioned there are great Easter eggs from the first film, but also be sure to keep an eye out for a delightful little nod to The Exorcist III.

Black Christmas is a film made by women, for women, that is sure to bring in hoards of new young female horror fans. It is clear that Takal and Wolfe made this film for young women with the goal of empowering them and bashing male toxicity. If this film makes even one young woman feel empowered after leaving the theater, then it is a successful film. Naturally, the political message and the idea of empowering women is a threat to many men, as we see in the film and has already been evident on social media around the film. I for one really enjoyed Black Christmas. It has it’s flaws, but its fun, has great characters young women can look up to, and will definitely appeal to its target audience. Hopefully this will lead to many more studio horror films geared towards women who love horror. There are definitely going to be plenty of men who don’t like this film, which is fine, but if you’re a guy just remember: this film wasn’t made for you.

OVERALL RATING: 6.5/10

Daniel Isn’t Real

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As a child, Luke had an imaginary friend named Daniel. After a troubling incident, he locked Daniel away and moved on with his life. Now a freshman in college, Luke returns home to visit his mentally unstable mother. In rehashing past trauma, Luke releases his old friend to help him cope with his reality.

From the producers of Mandy comes an all-new film to blow audiences’ minds. Daniel Isn’t Real is based on the novel by Brian DeLeeuw titled This Way I Was Saved. DeLeeuw (Curvature, Some Kind of Hate) co-wrote the film with director Adam Egypt Mortimer (Holidays, Some Kind of Hate). This duo creates cinematic magic in this film and delivers a compelling story unlike anything I have seen before. The film introduces us to Luke when he is a child and dealing with his parents going through what is clearly a tumultuous divorce. It is during this time that Daniel makes his first appearance. Imaginary friends are a fairly common coping mechanism for children going through trauma, so his mother allows this fantasy to continue until that fantasy becomes dangerous. Then Daniel comes back into Luke’s life during another time of trauma. Daniel is a very alluring and charming person who is able to help Luke get through hard times, tap into his artistic abilities, and become more confident with women. But, as with most things, all of this is too good to be true and Luke’s life spirals out of control all thanks to Daniel. DeLeeuw and Mortimer clearly create a fantastic mythos for Daniel and relate it to real-world issues. It’s also a mythos that keeps the audience guessing as to whether Daniel is a figment of Luke’s imagination, a side effect of a mental health issue, or something far more sinister.

There are so many layers to the plot of Daniel Isn’t Real. The top layer primarily deals with mental health. Luke’s mother has schizophrenia that is clearly not being taken care of by a healthcare professional. Naturally, when Luke’s life starts to get out of hand he thinks he is like his mother. Not only is it sad to watch his mother lose her handle on reality, but it’s equally unsettling to see how much it alters Luke’s life both when he was a child and as an adult. With schizophrenia potentially being hereditary, it’s heartbreaking to see Luke question his own sanity and fear that he is becoming like his mother, despite his love for her. It’s really powerful to watch and creates a stunning yet depressing commentary on mental illnesses and how they affect more than just the afflicted.

Another layer to the plot of Daniel Isn’t Real is the allure of power and control. Daniel is able to improve Luke’s life in virtually every aspect at first. His mother finally goes into the treatment she needs, he gets into photography, and he finally is connecting with other people. The effect Daniel has is intoxicating to Luke, but it also means he lets his guard down around his newfound friend. Daniel ends up taking over his entire life. There is even a psychosexual element as Daniel’s power over Luke extends to the bedroom, yet Daniel appears to almost be jealous of these interactions. It’s a bizarre dichotomy that makes you wonder who is truly in control at any given moment. Yet, despite that battle for control, the two are very much dependent on each other as well.

Daniel Isn’t Real contains many truly phenomenal performances. Miles Robbins (Blockers, Halloween) stars as Luke. Up until this film I had only really seen comedic performances from Robbins. His portrayal of Luke absolutely blew me away. Robbins shows such emotional depth in this role and conveys Luke’s unraveling mental state perfectly. It’s the kind of performance that stays with you long after the film ends. Patrick Schwarzenegger (Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, Grown Ups 2) stars opposite Robbins as Daniel. At first Schwarzenegger’s performance is quite subtle. He’s charming, helpful, sleek, and sexy. Then as the cracks in Daniel’s facade grow and his true nature shows, Schwarzenegger is able to really let his acting ability shine. He makes the character ominous and dangerous and pure evil in the best way possible. Both Robbins and Schwarzenegger also play off of each other very well. Other delightful performances can be found in Sasha Lane (Hellyboy) as Cassie, Mary Stuart Masterson (Fried Green Tomatoes) as Claire, and Chukwudi Iwuji (John Wick: Chapter 2) as Braun.

There are many gorgeous artistic elements throughout Daniel Isn’t Real. The filmmakers utilize a combination of both practical and CGI effects. While both are impressive, the practical effects are especially striking. They manage to be both beautiful and disturbing in a way that commands the screen and draws the viewers’ eye. The effects become more prominent and elaborate as the plot progresses and beautifully blends different worlds. Throughout much of the film, artwork is prominently featured as well. The most disturbing, beautiful, and iconic images are of Daniel. Along with the visual artistry, Daniel Isn’t Real also has a bewitching musical score by composer Clark (National Treasure: Kiri, Rellik). The score has an eeriness to it that matches the tone and look and the film.

Daniel Isn’t Real is a triumph of filmmaking. It claws its way into the minds and souls of audience members and never lets go. Both DeLeeuw and Mortimer deliver a masterpiece of a film. The performances from Robbins and Schwarzenegger demand attention and their on-screen chemistry is delightful to watch. What might be the biggest feat of Daniel Isn’t Real is how it takes ideas that wouldn’t traditionally work on screen and executes them perfectly. As an indication of how much I enjoyed this film, I went online and bought the novel Daniel Isn’t Real is based on as I wrote this review. This is a must-watch film and one that has solidified its place in my top films of 2019.

OVERALL RATING: 9.5/10

The Fare

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A taxi driver finds himself on a remote road at night to pick up a fare. A mysterious woman ends up in his cab, but before they reach their destination she vanishes. Unbeknownst to the taxi driver, he will meet the woman again as soon as he switches the meter back to vacant.

D.C. Hamilton (The Midnight Man) brings audiences his sophomore film as the director of The Fare. Written by Brinna Kelly (The Midnight Man), who also stars in the film, The Fare tells the story of a taxi driver named Harris. When he is sent out to the remote location at night to pick up a fare, he half expects it to be a prank call. That is until he finds a beautiful and mysterious woman named Penny there waiting for him. They have normal polite conversation until they approach an oncoming storm, then the woman suddenly vanishes. Harris, confused, resets his meter back to vacant and ends up right back where he started. The only problem is, he doesn’t seem to know he’s been reset. The audience watches as Harris and Penny go through the same time loop, that is until Harris finally starts to remember.

The entire premise of The Fare is far more interesting and unique than I expected. In the past few years there have been a number of time-loop films. Each one has its own distinctive flare and reasons for the time loop. This film manages to stand out from the crowd by delivering a compelling story and an unexpected reason for Harris and Penny being stuck in that loop. The filmmakers do a fantastic job of keeping the audience guessing. At times the film hints at aliens, gods, and other potential reasons. The truth is revealed in layers, only divulging small pieces of the puzzle at a time and ultimately making the big reveal incredibly satisfying. More importantly, it makes sense! Often times the plots of time-loop films can get convoluted, but The Fare delivers something audiences will understand and enjoy.

When you strip The Fare down to its core, it is much more of a love story than it is a time-loop film. Once Harris becomes aware of his situation and remembers more, we see his relationship with Penny grow. It’s especially interesting to watch because they are at such different stages of coming to terms with their situation. Penny’s memory goes much further back, so she’s already gone through the various stages of grief such as anger and bargaining, but she’s now accepted her situation. Since Harris is starting from the beginning, he has a harder time coming to terms with his situation. Yet it all brings them closer together, which only strengthens Harris’s quest to escape the loop with Penny and find the truth.

Both leads in The Fare deliver great performances. Gino Anthony Pesi (Shades of Blue, Battle Los Angeles) stars as Harris the taxi driver. While more handsome than people might expect of a stereotypical taxi driver, Pesi still fits the role well. There is a roughness to him, but he is still a very personable individual. What I especially enjoy about Pesi and his portrayal of Harris is his gradual change. Throughout his character arc, the audience sees Harris go through a wide range of emotions. When Harris and Penny become closer, Pesi even conveys a soft and caring side that is unexpected. Writer Brinna Kelly stars as Penny. Kelly brings a certain amount of poise and elegance to Penny that is very fitting for the character. Yet it’s when her barriers are broken down and her affection for Harris grows that Kelly really creates memorable moments for Penny. Pesi and Kelly have great on-screen chemistry throughout the film and will hold the attention of audiences.

Overall, the look and feel of the film reminds me a lot of an episode of The Twilight Zone and old noir films. At first, The Fare is in black and white. As Harris’s memory comes back, more and more of the film is in color. It creates a great visual cue for the audience to designate when Harris knows he is in the loop or not. The filmmakers also wisely chose to have the film set almost entirely within the taxi. Not only does this create a very intimate setting for the two leads, but it also allows for a lot of possibilities when it comes to the “why” behind the time loop. This decision likely gave the filmmakers the opportunity to spend the budget in more valuable areas instead of building elaborate sets or paying to use various locations.

The Fare is an unexpected gem that delivers something new to the time-loop subgenre of film. Hamilton and Kelly prove to be an effective filmmaking duo as they take audiences on a journey that goes to strange new places. Kelly also shows her acting prowess along with Pesi. Both actors deliver stunning performances and create dynamic characters. My only truly negative criticism of The Fare is at times the small budget is quite apparent. Yet the plot is novel enough and creates a mythos that is sure to bewitch audiences.

OVERLL RATING: 8.5/10

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