Directed By Mike Flanagan
Starring – Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
The Plot – On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless-mostly old, lots of polyester, and married to their RVs. But as Dan Torrance (McGregor) knows, and tween Abra Stone (Curran) learns, The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence. Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.” Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul.
Rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, adult language, nudity and drug use.
– The real terror. While soul stealing serves as the topical adverse scare for the movie’s themes and ensuing material, it’s the underlying issues associated with Danny’s plight that truly makes his arc gripping in more ways than one. Once again, alcoholism is a big reason for that, finding Danny in the very same parallels and shadows that his father faced during “The Shining”. Pushing this idea one step further is the inescapable terror associated with becoming our parents, which almost feels inescapable the longer our stories continue on. This seems like the one conflict that Danny can’t fight with his shine, requiring him to confront the past if he ever wants to make a future for himself. It’s interesting to see how one side of adversity transcends the other, outlining a battle of demons that Danny fights not only on the outside, but also the ones eating him alive from the inside.
– Credible cast. McGregor was definitely the right man to cast as this older version of Danny, who has worn the scars of anguish as an adult thanks to the things he has seen first-hand because of this gift. Ewan is very much the same introvert that his decades younger counterpart was in the previous installment, but it’s McGregor’s fiery registry that conjures up not only strong empathy for the character, but also inspires Danny in a way that very few other things have since that one fateful night at the Overlook Hotel. In addition to Ewan, Rebecca Ferguson hands in what is possibly the film’s best performance, having so much fun as this against-type antagonist with no shortage of menace or confidence to her personality. Ferguson commands attention each time she’s on camera, and gives proof to the argument that female antagonists in a Stephen King universe can be every bit as sinister as males, if not more for the way they use beauty and gentility to attack their prey. Curran is also reputable here, as this gifted little girl who is so much more than the two sides trophy in the middle. She gets her hands dirty multiple times throughout the film, and maintains her shine with a ferocity that never allows you to forget the peak of her powers.
– Characterization. This is especially surprising, because this film spends about 70% of its time with the antagonist characters, in order to build and understand their momentum in stealing gifts from unsuspecting youths. The screenplay values them in a way that almost no other antagonist characters receive in film, and I commended Flanagan endlessly for building an equal to the Danny and Abra combination, who we already understood to be indestructible. In showing these savages in their element, I also grew an enveloping rage from inside of me that wanted to see them suffer for their torture of these kids, capitalizing on a personal investment that very few antagonists capture with me anymore. Because this film is two-and-a-half hours in length, there’s no shortage of exposition or interaction between them, acting as a benefit to the urgency of these two sides eventually meeting for the inevitable confrontation.
– Easter Eggs. These will undoubtedly take a couple of watches to spot them all, but there were a few instances in the movie that paid homage not only to “The Shining” itself, but also to the true King of horror; Stephen King. I won’t spoil much, but keep your eyes open during an introductory scene when Danny meets with a sobriety leader. The scene practically echoes the placements in frame, color in objects, and meaning in conversation similar to the very same one where Jack Torrence meets the owner of the Overlook. In addition to this, numbers play a big running joke in the movie, like the address of Abra (1980), which serves as the very year “The Shining” was released. I could go on for miles with this one, but to summarize, I love a film that gets lost in its own folklore, and allows hardcore fans of the previous installment to study and isolate each frame in a way that gives it the kind of meaning and importance that Flanigan was hoping for.
– Brotherly brude. What a transfixing spell that The Newton Brothers lay at the doorstep of this movie, producing a musical score with such an inescapable presence in its riveting execution. In fact, presence is important when describing it, because these series of compositions maintain a pulse in frequent heartbeats added to the introduction of such, as well as the mixing of voices and chants that can be heard in the distance of this shattering of cymbals. It’s important to note that while each track begins the same, they are in fact anything but repetitious in their progressions. Deviations from familiarity constantly keeps us guessing, and adds to a suffocating atmosphere that allows us to get lost deep in the fog of psychological clarity. These are the same brothers who worked on Flanigan’s exceptional Netflix series “The Haunting of Hill House”, and that bond between them is solidified here in a way that makes the Newton’s presence inescapable to the film’s presentation.
– As an adaptation. I usually don’t support when a King adaptation deviates so drastically from the source material, but in following in the shoes of Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining”, “Doctor Sleep” also finds its own unique voice to prosper as its own product. Sure, around 60% of the book is evidently there, mostly in the navigation of the story and disposal of characters, that eventually found its way back to familiarity. But the deviation presents several character deviations that I greatly appreciated, a weight of current day social conscience that wasn’t present in the noval, and an ending that I liked much more in the movie than the book’s tacky closing moments. In that respect, I give the movie a slight advantage over its literary counterpart, but in reality these are two products that each have a satisfying duality to fans looking to get lost in these characters one last time.
– Flanagan’s influence. From the man who articulated so much unnerve in the toxic family narrative from “The Haunting of Hill House”, it’s a bit of a surprise that Mike shows much more restraint over stylistic choices in this film, which keeps the film’s message and story grounded where it needs to be. However, there are certainly some creative leaps throughout, particularly when characters use their shine abilities, taking audiences on a flightful mind-warp of a journey to emphasize the otherworldliness of these moments. Outside of that, the film rests easily on a fairly grounded world, utilizing c.g sparingly and as needed, instead of an abundance. This helps immerse you into the world of “Doctor Sleep” without it ever feeling too fantastical or unbelievable towards its psychological themes. His ability to adapt to the diversity of the world’s that he tackles, makes him one of the most sought-after horror directors of the current day, and “Doctor Sleep” is just one more chance to indulge in such a self-less execution.
– Sloppy transitions. This is especially evident during the first act of the film, where the juggling of multiple story arcs and character introductions are edited in a way that makes certain scenes feel pointless. This is evident during scenes that serve as nothing more than a reaction to what ensued previously. This isn’t a problem if the previous scene is maintained throughout the next one, but the new scene establishes its attention dominance over the story in a way that makes it feel like something big is coming, yet never actually does. In addition to this, transitions are usually meant as a tool for the passage of time, yet here there’s no clear consistency or indication for the movements forward, that appear more frequently and spontaneously than a major motion picture is used to. There’s simply too many transitions in such a short period of time, and this impatient level of storytelling kept the film from gaining any momentum until the settled down second act.
– Too long. I hate making this complaint, especially with a lengthy novel with so many great ideas, but the movie version of “Doctor Sleep” is filled with an abundance of scenes that could easily converge together, instead of standing as two individual scenes to pad the time further. Not only can so many of these scenes be merged together to speed up the fluidity of the story, but some more attention could be paid to the very rules of Abra’s shining, which are sometimes so ambiguous that they feel like a game of Dungeons and Dragons, where the rules are made up as we go. This is a 145 minute movie, and for my money you could tell the very same story in two hours flat, and not lose a single ounce of creativity to the benefit of the literary counterpart. This feels every bit of its run time, and that isn’t a compliment.
– Continuity. Strangely enough, the film suffers the strongest when you remember its ties to the original movie, and the seams of similarity start to come unglued. For one, the decision to cast these unknown actors in the very same roles that Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson adorned gives the scenes a cheap and disruptive quality to the immersive consistency that was improving until these unnecessary scenes popped into frame. To be honest, you don’t even need them. They are just cheap recreations of scenes we’ve already seen and lived through with Danny, so their inclusion only diminishes the energy of the previously more inferior product. Secondly, the hotel itself is kind of a disappointment once you get past the placement of the rooms, and the familiar orange carpet that filled the lobby. If you’re a hardcore fan of “The Shining” like I am, you start to notice that the flooring tiles of Jack’s typing lobby are different, the boilers in the boiler room were painted a completely different color, and the entertainment lobby with the legendary bar looks like it was robbed of its tasteful high-class furniture, and replaced with a college rec room. Considering movies like “Blade Runner 2049” or “Captain America: Civil War” have articulated de-aging and an eye for time-stamped set designs, there is simply no reason for “Doctor Sleep’s” method of laziness. It renders the Overlook Hotel even more lifeless than the script’s intended direction, and adds a reminder of the near 40 years that have passed since the previous film.
My Grade: 7/10 or B