Doctor Sleep (United States, 2019)November 06, 2019
Thirty-six years after publishing The Shining,
Stephen King returned to the world where the Overlook Hotel once stood to catch
up with how things have been going for the now-adult character of Danny Torrance.
The lure of making a movie out of the sequel, called Doctor Sleep, was
too much for Hollywood to resist. The producers tabbed Mike Flanagan, the
creator of the critically-acclaimed Netflix series The Haunting of Hill
House, to handle the adaptation – a task that forced the writer/director to
confront the thorny issue that has surrounded The Shining: author
Stephen King’s distaste for the 1980 film version. Flanagan was able to
convince King to agree to a hybrid of sorts, an approach that has allowed Doctor
Sleep to be reasonably faithful to the source material while at the same
time existing as a direct sequel to Kubrick’s adaptation.
Like Peter Hyams’ 2010, which used 2001 as an
inspiration but didn’t attempt to mimic Kubrick’s style, Doctor Sleep
offers a more concrete approach. While adopting visual cues from The Shining
(and co-opting the efforts of look-alike actors to fill the Shelly Duvall, Scatman
Crothers, and Jack Nicholson parts), Flanagan avoids an over-reliance on the
earlier film. Doctor Sleep is more straightforward and narratively clean
than The Shining. Although too long by at least 20 minutes, it is more
accessible and doesn’t overly penalize those who haven’t seen (or don’t
remember) the original movie.
Doctor Sleep is an example of Stephen King horror –
more complex and thematically rich than the average motion picture fright fest.
Neither King nor Flanagan is interested in jump scares. The production
escalates using existential dread as its fuel. One could argue there’s too much
in the way of build-up; the movie’s second half is stronger than the
occasionally leaden first hour. The Newton Brothers’ score employs percussion
to keep the soundtrack synchronized with the overall tempo. Echoes of Kubrick
are most evident during the film’s last act but they can be found elsewhere as
well, including in the performance of Ewan McGregor, who studied Nicholson’s
work in the earlier motion picture and isn’t afraid to let it shine through the
cracks and crevices of Danny Torrance’s personality.
The film opens with a prologue set shortly after the events
of The Shining. Danny (Roger Dale Floyd), still a young boy, is haunted
by poltergeists who seek to devour his “shine.” Lessons from the spirit of Dick
Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), allow him to confront and eliminate the ghosts
one-by-one. Nevertheless, his childhood experiences take their toll on his
psyche and when we next meet him in 2011 (now played by Ewan McGregor), he’s a
homeless drunk searching for a purpose in life. He finds one in the protection
and mentorship of teenager Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with a powerful
shine. She is being hunted by a group of energy vampires led by Rose the Hat
(Rebecca Ferguson) who have gained near-immortality by torturing, killing, and
devouring children with supernatural abilities. Danny becomes Obi-Wan to Abra’s
Luke as the girl heads for a showdown with Rose at a location that has deep,
dark meaning for Danny: the Overlook Hotel (burned to the ground in King’s
novel but left very much standing in Kubrick’s movie).
From the outside looking in, Rose’s band of gypsies seem
harmless – almost likable. For her part, she traipses around their camp
barefoot and spends time meditating on the top of her RV. But the placid
exterior hides the heart of a devil. Flanagan establishes her inherent evil
early in the film, amplifies it during a scene when she “turns” a 15-year old
girl (Emily Alyn Lind), and cements it during a horrifying torture-and-murder
of a boy (Jacob Tremblay). Rebecca Ferguson’s interpretation of Rose is subtle-
she is neither ugly nor outwardly monstrous. She uses seduction until she no
longer needs it, then her true nature emerges.
The movie’s final hour, which includes three distinct
confrontations, rewards the patience of viewers who plow through the extended
first 90 minutes. (Flanagan could have used a more ruthless editor.) The
movie’s tone as it traverses the path to the inevitable climax is more thriller
than horror. In fact, Doctor Sleep has a lot on in common with
traditional action/adventure films. It’s not scary or even especially creepy.
The supernatural elements place it within the horror genre but this isn’t conventional
movie horror in either its scope or presentation.
Ewan McGregor could probably do this role in his sleep,
although that’s not to say he isn’t invested in the performance. Danny is
seeking meaning, redemption, and closure. Along the way, McGregor gets to break
out a few of the characteristics he showed in the Star Wars prequels. Kyliegh
Curran, the 13-year old actress in her first major part, shows fire and energy
in a demanding role. She and McGregor develop the chemistry necessary for the
mentor/pupil relationship to work.
Those who loved Kubrick’s The Shining primarily because of its weirdness and imagery may be disappointed by the restraint and coherence evident in the sequel. In a way, this is King reclaiming his territory while acknowledging the mark left by the 1980 production in the cultural psyche. 2019 has been a banner year for King’s work, with a new Pet Sematary, It Chapter Two, and In the Tall Grass having preceded his film. Although Doctor Sleep is flawed, it’s arguably the best of a surprisingly strong group of movies that prove King’s enduring popularity as he enters his sixth decade as a professional writer.
Doctor Sleep (United States, 2019)
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Emily Alyn Lind, Zahn McClarnon, Carl Lumbly, Jacob Tremblay
Home Release Date: 2020-02-04
Screenplay: Mike Flanagan, based on the novel by Stephen King
Cinematography: Michael Fimognari
Music: The Newton Brothers
U.S. Distributor: Warner Brothers
U.S. Release Date: 2019-11-08
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity, Sexual Content, Drugs)
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
- Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005)
- Star Wars (Episode 1): The Phantom Menace (1999)
- Trainspotting (1969)
- (There are no more better movies of Kyliegh Curran)
- (There are no more worst movies of Kyliegh Curran)