MOVIE REVIEW — Doctor Sleep
Mike Flanagan’s Successful Return to the Overlook — ★★★★
If ever there was a film with no need for a sequel, Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is certainly near the top of the list. Having only seen the original film once back in sophomore year of high school, now almost six years ago, it felt as if a rewatch was needed of Kubrick’s film prior to going into this showing, and so it was done. I rewatched The Shining hours before heading to this early screening for Doctor Sleep and I think that was the best way to do it. Going into this film with a very fresh memory of the original definitely helped in catching some of the more nuanced references, specifically in the music of the sequel. I would put some clever little cliffhanger of a sentence here if my rating was not blatantly featured in the subtitle, but let’s just pretend those pretty little four stars are invisible for the time being and instead just talk about Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep and how good it is!
Introduced in the year 1980, a tribe of people called The True Knot, travel in search of sustenance in what their leader, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) calls “the steam”. As Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) knows, and tween Abra Stone (Kyliegh 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 a few horrific childhood months, 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, after meeting Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) a friendly local who helps get him started in the community. Following an AA meeting, Dan earns 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.” Shortly after this, Dan truly 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 and survival.
Without Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson, this film is not nearly as great as it is. The two of them are absolutely electric on screen, both together and not, and are backed by a very talented supporting cast. Ferguson manages to take a very one dimensional villain in Rose the Hat and makes her completely engaging through her performance. While the motives for her character are utterly cliche, she brings such a strong presence to the screen that she absolutely commands it in every scene. I’m also not some fashionista, but Rose’s fashion is instantly iconic. As for McGregor’s portrayal of Danny Torrance, it feels like a true natural progression for the boy we met in 1980. While Kubrick’s film did establish that his father was an alcoholic, the heavier themes of alcoholism and addiction were nearly completely absent from that film. Conversely, that is the key aspect of Dan’s character here, and McGregor pulls it off impeccably as we see him struggle to keep his vices at bay. Cliff Curtis is severely underrated as an actor in my personal opinion, and that is a hill I will die on, with his work here as Billy Freeman only supporting that. There is not much to say on his character for the sake of spoilers, but Curtis shines (pun intended) as Dan’s friend/mentor.
With this being a sequel to a film from 1980, and one regarded as one of the best horror films (or films in general) of all time, making a sequel is bound to polarize viewers to say the least. We live in an age where countless remakes, reboots, and sequels are being pumped out for the sake of nostalgia and it seems as if some are fully expecting this to just be The Shining 2. This is not that movie, at all. While yes, this is a sequel and there are very distinct and overt references to the original film, it does not come off as nostalgia-bait meant to just drag audiences in for a rehashing of the same story in a different era. Rather, Mike Flanagan took Stephen King’s follow-up novel and adapted it for the big screen, bringing some truly crazy visuals with it. Nearly every sequence dealing with the “shining” was effectively mesmerizing, namely the scene with Abra and Rose doing their mind battle. While this it one hundred percent its own thing, Flanagan manages to imbue it with a sense of respect for both the literature and the film version of its predecessor, even with the tiniest of aspects like the use of fades between scenes, just as The Shining used before it. Doctor Sleep is a film made from love.
For horror fans, Doctor Sleep packs a great dosage of scares and frightening imagery, which should be expected with director Mike Flanagan having previously worked on Gerald’s Game (another Stephen King adaptation, which stars Bruce Greenwood who has a cameo here) and Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House. While I would not say any of the scares live up to the overall presentation of a man’s descent into true madness that is seen with Jack Torrance in the original film, there are some genuinely freaky moments throughout that give Kubrick’s a run for its money.
Of course, there are a number of negative aspects with this film that keep it back from being on that same level of Kubrick’s masterpiece. For one, the villains here feel like completely one dimensional characters with no real motives, only helped by the aforementioned performance from an invigorated Rebecca Ferguson. Similarly, the dialogue throughout is as littered with exposition as King’s actual writing, which does not translate as well to the screen. Again, this is offset by the great work done by the cast to try and elevate the film past the weaker writing that it faces, to a mostly successful run, though there are some rough bits. The pacing is also a bit off at times, really making you feel the entirety of two and a half hour runtime of the film. It is safe to say that nobody expected this to be better than The Shining, but it is a nice surprise to see it reach the levels it does while being held back by these.
Doctor Sleep is a film that should not exist, and yet here we are and here it is, being one of the better 40-years-too-late sequels. While the film lacks in the antagonist department, and is hampered by poor writing and pacing, it is ultimately saved by the performances, direction from Mike Flanagan, and the risks it takes in staying with King’s novelization rather than attempting to be a cash grab sequel to one of the most important pieces of cinema history. It misses the mark just slightly, while still being an entertaining affair with a hefty runtime for mainstream audiences, which should also be taken as a win for the team behind it. As a whole, Doctor Sleep manages to bring life back into the Overlook Hotel for one last time, feeling both totally necessary and unnecessary at the same time.
OKAY… I have saved this until the VERY end, so If you do not want the most minor of spoilers, this is where I bid you farewell… For those still here, the moment that brought the biggest grin to my face was in the final act of the film when Midnight, The Stars and You plays very so quietly in the background of the Overlook. I was left saying, “oh neat, I wish the whole song was played, but I’ll take the little Easter egg” only to have the final scene and end credits feature the whole song! The use of the song in The Shining is one of my favorite uses of music in a film, and so I was praying it would be in the sequel. I was left satisfied!
Be sure to see Doctor Sleep when it opens in theaters on November 8th, 2019!
My Social Media:
Twitter — https://twitter.com/patcoylesimmons
Letterboxd — https://letterboxd.com/Protacrastic/
If you are interested, I also got to see Jojo Rabbit at the Philadelphia Film Festival and wrote up an official review which you can check out here: