As it leaps across time periods and regions, Doctor Sleep displays a restlessness right from the start. First, there's a brief sunny prologue in Florida, where Danny and his mother Wendy (Alex Essoe, taking over the role from Shelley Duvall) have relocated following the tragedy in Colorado. Then, the film shifts to the East Coast, where middle-aged Danny, now called Dan and played by a beleaguered Ewan McGregor, dulls his telekinetic powers with alcohol. After a particularly unsettling morning, which finds him stealing the wallet of a woman he picked up at a bar, Dan tumbles off a bus in New Hampshire, where he lands a steady gig in the care-taking business thanks to a well-meaning local (Cliff Curtis) and tidies up his life with the assistance of an Alcoholics Anonymous group lead by a kind-hearted doctor (Bruce Greenwood, who had a larger role in Flanagan's unsettling 2017 King adaptation Gerald's Game). He's on the path to recovery, approaching his journey one day at a time.
At the same time, there's still wickedness in the world, most pressingly in the form of Rose the Hat, a mystic played with a sense of hippie-dippy menace by Rebecca Ferguson. Rose leads a roving cavalcade of RV-dwelling, soul-sucking men and women who feed on "the steam" of children who have the ability to "shine," the same gift Dan displayed as a kid. (As portrayed in the film, the consumption of "steam" resembles a form of creepy vaping.) The group calls themselves the True Knot, a name that sounds like the title of an album by a forgotten soft rock band from Laurel Canyon, and they eventually become obsessed with tracking down Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with a staggering amount of supernatural potential. Who does Abra reach out to for guidance, setting up an inevitable clash between good and evil? Old Doctor Sleepy himself.
The narrative work required to set up all these moving parts, toggling between different story threads while building tension and establishing new characters with quick details, comes easily enough to Flanagan, who recently oversaw Netflix's engrossing family saga The Haunting of Hill House. An editor by trade before he became a director, Flanagan understands how to marshal information, consolidate events, and track character growth over time. If King's main argument against Kubrick's movie was that it didn't understand how to portray a psychological arc, he'll likely be pleased by Flanagan's often painstaking, exacting approach to the material. (In fact, King has been singing the movie's praises on Twitter: "The clarity of the storytelling is what makes it special.")