A Villainous Villainess: Rose the Hat
‘Doctor Sleep’ boasts the best horror villain of the year — and possibly the decade — with Rebecca Ferguson’s delightfully evil antagonist.
Not a lot of people showed up to Doctor Sleep on its opening weekend, which is a damn shame. It’s one of the best horror films of the year, and an excellent reconciliation of Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick’s two very different versions of The Shining. Of its many triumphs, one that stands out above all others its the film’s primary antagonist, Rose the Hat. Played by Mission: Impossible actress Rebecca Ferguson, Rose commands the screen from the first moment she graces it. Her presence gives a lasting impression, akin to the best horror villains of cinema.
Spoilers for the film Doctor Sleep follow.
What makes Rose the Hat so memorable? Well, the first thing to praise is Rebecca Ferguson’s exemplary performance. The actress has been largely wasted in her studio efforts outside of the franchise that launched her into the mainstream. Thankfully, Doctor Sleep breaks that cycle, giving her a role worthy of her immense talent and charisma. Ferguson brings Rose to life with both menace and charm, not unlike Anthony Hopkins in Silence of the Lambs. Her slinky movements and sultry voice create and appeal to Rose, even as she’s doing evil, awful things.
Rose’s first appearance, in which she lures a small child into the clutches of the True Knot, her cult of quasi-immortals that feed on steam (the essence of children with the Shining), is worth a thousand words. She’s seductive and charming, with eyes and seem at once both soft and sharp, and a cheshire grin to go with them. When things take a turn, and she grips down on the child while her cultish family surrounds them, it seems like an act of betrayal. The scene is crafted similarly to Pennywise’s debut in It (2017) — another Stephen King film that has no problem putting children in harm’s way — and is just as effective. From this moment forward, Rose creates a sense of unease whenever she’s onscreen.
Yet, like any good antagonist, Rose isn’t the villain in her own story. She is only doing what is necessary to keep her family together and alive, even if that means murdering innocent children. With less and less children possessing Shining abilities, her family hasn’t eaten well in years. The pressure is on Rose to feed her family, and as that gets harder, she grows more desperate. When the majority of the True Knot are killed in a shootout, Rose’s pain is felt; we empathize with her. Doctor Sleep has many moments that allow the audience to empathize, or even align with Rose and her goals.
When we first meet Rose, she has a fair amount of self-control — she hesitates to open a canister of steam for the True Knot as their supplies dwindle — but as she continues to grow more desperate, that self control goes out the window. This makes Rose the perfect character foil for Dan Torrance, our returning protagonist. Decades after his father attempted to kill him at the Overlook Hotel, Dan is heavily addicted to alcohol and drugs. His turning point comes shortly into the film; he asks a friend for help and starts going to a support group. For the rest of the film, Dan actively seeks recovery and cures himself of his disease, gaining his self-control back.
The stark contrast between Rose and Dan brings weight into the third act. By this point, Rose is unhinged, having ingested the True Knot’s remaining steam supply. She is desperate for her next fix when she confronts Dan and Abra, a young girl with the Shine, at the Overlook Hotel. Meanwhile, Dan refuses to give into the Overlook’s influence, even when the ghost of his father offers him a whiskey. While Dan gets his shit together, Rose unravels completely. All that Shine in her system makes her irresistible to the ghosts of the Overlook; her addiction is literally the death of her.
With all of the amazing elements that make up Doctor Sleep, it’s difficult to say that Rose the Hat makes the movie. That being said, she is a key component in making it one of the best horror films of the year. Her acts of violence are brutal and disturbing, yet she remains a magnetic presence. Through a nuanced performance that sells her struggle, Ferguson never allows Rose to fall into stock villainy or cartoonish evil. Frankly, she gives an Oscar-worthy performance, one of my favorites of the year. In a world of fairly generic blockbusters and franchises, it’s worth taking note when something different and amazing enters the multiplex. Doctor Sleep is that different and amazing something, and Rose the Hat is one of the primary reasons for that. She’s a villain for the ages, and I suspect she’ll be rather iconic in years to come.