2019, R, 152 mins.
Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance / Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone / Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat / Zahn McClarnon as Crow Daddy / Bruce Greenwood as Dr. John / Carel Struycken as Grampa Flick / Emily Alyn Lind as Snakebite Andi / Jacob Tremblay as Bradley Trevor
Directed by Mike Flanagan / Based on the novel by Stephen King
How does one take on the Herculean task of making a sequel to one of the most iconic horror films (and cherished Stanley Kubrick films) of all time, which in turn was loosely adapted from one of Stephen King's most well known novels?
How does one make
a sequel movie that appeases both fans of Kubrick's work and King's literature?
The short answer?
Very democratically and carefully.
The Kubrick film in question is, of course, 1980's THE SHINING, which fully emerged at the time as less a faithful appropriation of King's source material and more something uniquely out of filmmaker's eccentric playbook. THE SHINING wasn't instantly adored by filmgoers and critics upon release, but over the years people have warmed over to the notion that it's one of Kubrick's most chillingly atmospheric efforts, made all the more memorable because of Jack Nicholson's go-for-broke performance in it.
King, on the
other hand, has routinely been vocal of Kubrick's approach to his material
(which most likely led to his mostly forgotten 1997 TV mini series version
of his novel). This brings us
to the tricky dilemma of DOCTOR SLEEP, which is (a) an adaptation
of King's own sequel novel to THE SHINING and (b) tries to pay
respect to both die hard King and Kubrick lovers.
Writer/director Mike Flanagan (GERALD'S GAME) seems thanklessly
committed to such a tough endeavor, and his DOCTOR SLEEP miraculously
manages to keep its feet in both ends of the cinematic and literary
legacies of THE SHINING. That,
and it doesn't fall victim - as so many lackluster sequels do - of just
spinning its narrative wheels and dryly and lazily rehashing what's come
before. King's and Kubrick's
indelibly large shadows are cast heavily over DOCTOR SLEEP, but Flanagan
deserves supreme props for crafting his own nightmarish thriller that stands
on its own while thoroughly and respectfully acknowledging what's come
And this sequel
has an intriguingly enticing hook: What happened to that poor and deeply
traumatized young lad in Danny Torrance after the events of THE SHINING,
during which time his stay at the supernaturally charged Overlook Hotel made
his father go six ways to Sunday nuts and attempt to murder him and his
mother? Flanagan opens his
film with some nifty flashbacks (which rather wisely and thankfully
doesn't utilize distracting CGI recreations of the 1980 film's actors)
that serve as a prologue to THE SHINING, re-introducing us to Danny
(Roger Dale Floyd) as he's still being tormented by the ghosts of the
Overlook that want to catch and eat away his "shine" powers and
essence. He's given a crash
course, so to speak, by the spirit of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly, doing
a pretty spot on impression of Scatman Crothers from the first film) in
terms of how to take on each of these poltergeists one at a time.
Regardless of how psychically powerfully young Danny is, he still
remains devastatingly haunted by what's happened to him and his mother,
and as we flash forward to 2011 we meet back up with him as an adult (Ewan
McGregor), who's now a pathetic drunk that can't find ways to forget the
hellish ordeals of his childhood past.
Danny can still
shine, but he mostly subverts those abilities in an effort to try to
maintain some semblance of normalcy in his life, but his alcoholic
addictions get the better of him. After
being befriended by the kindly Bill (the always great Cliff Curtis), Danny
learns to find solace in a group of recovering alcoholics and learns to beat
his addictions and, while doing so, takes a job as an orderly in a nearby
retirement and finds new purpose in using his powers to help dying old
tenants find peace with moving on to the other side.
Unfortunately, Danny finds himself drawn pack into his past with
the appearance of the teenage Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), who arguably
has shine powers just as strong, if not more, than his.
She's being routinely hunted down by a traveling group of
gypsy-like stalkers, all led by Rose the Hat (a stellar Rebecca Ferguson),
who has become a nearly unkillable vampire-like monster that kidnaps,
tortures, and then literally inhales the shine from children.
Realizing this threat from Rose will never end, Danny decides to
team up with his new protégée in Abra so they can plot a trap that will
stop this nefarious being once and for all, and they do so with a return
visit and a much need assist from the Overlook Hotel, which is now really,
really worse for wear...in more ways that one.
I found DOCTOR
SLEEP's narrative trajectory quite interesting, especially in terms of how
it uses the horror genre as a launching pad for exploring themes about how
intense childhood trauma can all but ruin people well into adulthood.
Danny was so emotionally destroyed by the events of THE SHINING
that he drinks just to suppress and forget about it.
DOCTOR SLEEP becomes an exploratory examination of salt being pour
over decades old wounds, and it's compelling and sad to see the adult
Danny engage in ample self-destructive behavior early on, and it becomes
even sadder when he's forced to confront his past demons even well after
beating his alcoholism. That
makes his Batman and Robin like relationship with Abra equally
fascinating, mostly because he wants to ensure what happened to him all
those years ago doesn't happen to her.
I appreciated the
slowly evolving character driven approach to DOCTOR SLEEP, which doesn't
feel all that compelled to throw obligatory jump scares at viewers like it
was going out of style. Flanagan's overall approach is patient and leisurely,
allowing for the characters to be well introduced and developed, which
helps the existentialist terrors to come feel all the more unnerving.
The performances here are uniformly committed and assured, with
McGregor leading the charge as the forty-ish Danny who has been wallowing
in self-medicated help for far too long to cast out memories of his
murderous and crazy father and that damn possessed hotel (McGregor wisely
underplays his role with just the right level of long term sadness that
gives way later to headstrong resolve). His paired nicely with the 13-year-old Curran, who shows a
maturity and poise for her very taxing role (her character never becomes a
mere sidekick that requires frequent rescuing, which is refreshing).
Stealing the movie, though, is Ferguson's tour de force portrayal
as the villain of the piece, and her hippie vampire could have been
overplayed to the part of distracting, but the actress is smart enough to
make this monster more subtly and seductively dangerous and creepy.
perhaps the real star here, and his method of respecting his multiple
creative parties of inspiration in DOCTOR SLEEP is a real delicate and
tough balancing act, to be sure, but he pulls it off rather well.
Yes, DOCTOR SLEEP is a direct movie sequel to THE SHINING, with
specific events, characters, and moments being referenced and sometimes
recreated, but it also acknowledges that King's source novel is important
as well, making a reconciling of both of paramount importance here.
Flanagan employs a remarkable amount of ambitious inventiveness in
having his film maintain some stylistic echoes of Kubrick's work, most
definitely felt in the score by The Newton Brothers, which
understatedly echoes the music of the first film while having a
synthesized life of its own. The
production design (or, re-design work in some cases) is pretty incredible
as well, most notably as the film builds towards its tension filled and
well earned climax set in the run down, abandoned, boarded up, but still
very much haunted Overlook Hotel, which I've read was not entirely
the product of VFX, but rather meticulous set recreations on vast
soundstages (kind of staggering). DOCTOR
SLEEP really makes audiences think that they're thrust right back into
that haunted house of horrors without missing a beat.
And, as already mentioned, Flanagan makes the absolute right
choices with not using de-aging effects to make THE SHINING's characters
come back four decades later; I love the fact that he used look-alike
actors...there's a lesson to be learned here I think.
Not all of DOCTOR SLEEP is rock solid and steadily engineered. Some ideas and subplots - like Danny using his gifts to assist dying elderly people in that nursing home - are introduced and then jettisoned too early. The film is also far too long, and its 151 running time shows its bloat and sometimes impedes narrative flow and momentum. That, and perhaps the largest elephant in the room worthy of bringing up is just how, well, necessary was a cinematic sequel to THE SHINING? DOCTOR SLEEP is unquestionably a good standalone horror film with stalwart direction and some truly refined performances, but as a sequel to THE SHINNING - so deeply entrenched in the minds of cinephiles and Kubrick fundamentalists the world over - it reminded me a lot of 2010 as a sequel to 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (the former was well crafted on its own terms, but felt mostly superfluous as a required follow-up entry to a landmark classic that didn't require one). DOCTOR SLEEP ain't THE SHINING. But, what horror film could attain such a lofty upper echelon status? It's a terrifically orchestrated sequel made with great care, tact, and polish, and it makes honest attempts to expand upon the first film as opposed to remaking or re-imagining it, and all why vigilantly paying fan service to two creative titans in their respective fields. That's not easy, which is why DOCTOR SLEEP mostly shines throughout.