“Doctor Sleep” – Movie Review

The Shining remains one of the most iconic horror films (and novels) ever written, lasting decades and transcending not just horror fandom, but pop culture in general.  So following up this iconic story was no easy task, not even for Stephen King.

But after years of wondering what ever happened to Danny Torrance, King did we he does best and in 2013 published “Doctor Sleep”.  And while this film adaptation is far more faithful than Kubrick’s 1980 film ever was, does it (or can it) live up to one of the most famous horror films of all time?!

Never Fully Healed
The film opens in 1980, shortly after the events of The Shining. We see a little girl in Florida lured into the woods by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson).  She and her clan, the True Knot are ferocious predators who have been hunting children who “shine” for centuries.

Meanwhile, Wendy and Danny are trying to start a new life, but the ghosts of the Overlook keep following Danny, until the friendly spirit of Dick Halloran teaches him to create boxes in his mind and trap them there.  As the years go by, Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) grows into a man very similar to that of his father.

It’s sad, but very true in real life that many children of abusive/alcoholic parents inevitably grow up just like them.

It seems that the trauma of his childhood followed him, much like the malevolent spirits of the Overlook.  His life is a mess, with his alcoholism dominating his every decision.  But he manages to get a fresh start in a new town, where a good friend Billy (Cliff Curtis) gets him set up with a job, apartment, and on the path of sobriety.

In another part of New England, a young girl Abra (Kyliegh Curran) demonstrates an amazing level of “shine”, and ends up on the radar of the True Knot.  She also manages to contact Dan, and he realizes he must protect her from this murderous cult.

Abra is far more powerful in her shine than anyone we’ve encountered before (which the book explains a bit better).

Sequel to Both the Book and Film
Doctor Sleep had the very daunting task of being a faithful adaptation to King’s novel, while at the same time following up the Kubrick film, one which King has publicly despised for decades.  Initially, King didn’t want this film to reference the Kubrick adaptation at all, opting for it to follow “The Shining” novel.

However, director Mike Flanagan convinced King that most audiences were more familiar with the Kubrick film, and that this one would have to follow it.  This resulted in one of the biggest departures from the book, as in the novel “The Shining”, the Overlook Hotel burns down, so when Dan inevitably returns to that location to battle the True Knot, it’s just a campground.

However, because the hotel is still standing at the end of Kubrick’s film, it meant that they could actually return to the building itself, which in my opinion, makes for a much stronger ending.  It brings us back full circle, and the production design team did a truly spectacular job at recreating the Overlook as it looked in 1980.

There’s a brilliantly eerie quiet to the Overlook when adult Dan first enters and has to “wake it up”.

Flanagan even recreates the opening to The Shining with the same helicopter shots of the lake and following the car up the mountains.  And the on subject of recreating the original film, Doctor Sleep gets the look and feel right for certain flashbacks as well.

For obvious reasons, the scenes in 1980 required recasting of Wendy, Danny, and Halloran, which the film does a great job of, particularly Wendy, who’s now played by Alex Essoe (Starry Eyes).  She even captures Shelly Duvall’s voice and inflection!

The only recasting that really didn’t work (minor spoilers here) is Jack Torrance himself.  We only see him briefly, when Danny returns to the hotel (as well as in a flashback recreating the chase in the original), and while he has the right outfit and hairstyle, he really doesn’t resemble the Jack we know, and his voice is nowhere near it.

We do get to see the Grady twins again, however. And their voices sound very much the same, probably because the simply reused the audio, which is easier for their one line, “Come play with us Danny.”

To be fair to Doctor Sleep however, Jack Nicholson has a very iconic look and voice, which admittedly are very difficult to recreate.  And with modern de-aging CGI, perhaps it would have been possible to use Nicholson himself.  But then again, King always disliked his performance, and maybe that was where he drew the line on connections to the Kubrick film.  It’s not that a big a deal, because again, he’s barely in it for three minutes.

Holding Nothing Back
Among the many strengths of Doctor Sleep, one that really stands out is how it really goes all out.  Between Rebecca Ferguson’s terrifying, but compelling performance, to the overall brutality we see from her clan, the True Knot.  Unlike many other villains, they’re not evil simply for the sake of being so.

We get the sense that Rose has been doing this for centuries, which is why she’s all the more unhinged when she faces a challenge like Dan and Abra.

To them, feasting upon children who shine is a matter of survival, as that is what grants them extended life.  They don’t really consider the morality of what they’re doing, in the same way that a lion doesn’t consider morality when hunting and killing the gazelle.

To them, it’s just the natural order.  But that doesn’t stop them from utilizing immense brutality, particularly when they kill a young baseball played (Jacob Tremblay) in a truly disturbing scene, that frankly I’m amazed got by the MPAA with an “R” rating.

Seeing a child tortured and murdered on film (while showing everything) is a truly disturbing and upsetting sight, but rather than feel gratuitous, it sets the stage for just how dangerous the True Knot is.  As well as how much danger Abra will be in, should Dan fail to protect her.

Still Fails to Live up to the Original
Despite everything that Doctor Sleep does right, it still doesn’t quite capture the cinematic brilliance that Kubrick’s Shining did, nor will it have the lasting power.

But to fault it for this seems unfair, since it was a nearly impossible task.  And aside from the minor issue of recasting Jack Torrance, the only other minor issues would be the slow pacing (which is inevitable when following a novel closely), and showing what the shining looks like.

In the original, we saw Danny using the shining, or “talking to Tony”, as he called it. But we never actually saw Danny physically go into Halloran’s mind, it was all kept very subtle, which made it all the more believable.

Perhaps a better way to phrase that would be Doctor Sleep shows us visually what it looks like when one person enters the mind of another.  The Kubrick film always kept the shining as subtle and just within the fringes of reality.

But here we see Rose flying through Abra’s mind even coming up filing cabinets that contain her thoughts.  While it’s understandable that this is a good visual representation of the mind, it can’t help but feel a little silly sometimes, especially when the film goes full Inception.

It brings back memories of Dreamcatcher, when the alien invaded someone’s mind, but it was library and he managed to lock the alien out of one room, and it simply raises too many questions about the logistics of the shining, that once we really think about it, makes everything fall apart.

The infamous “Memory Warehouse” from Dreamcatcher is a cool idea in a novel when it’s up to our imagination, but it’s hard to take seriously when seeing it on film.

However, these issues are minor in the grand scheme of things.  It’s still a great film, that admittedly doesn’t come anywhere near the original, but that’s okay because it never really had a chance.

It boasts great performances from Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Hall, goes all out with its horrific brutality, and balances just the right amount of fan service with references to the Overlook.  Doctor Sleep proves to a mostly worthy follow up, with and ending that finally reconciles King’s original novel with Kubrick’s brilliant film!

No true fan will be able to refrain from giddy cheering when this shot is recreated and the music plays!

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