“The world is one big hospice with fresh air.” – Danny Torrance
Stanley Kubrick‘s ‘The Shining‘ was released almost 40 years ago. While everyone knows how much writer Stephen King disliked the film adaptation of his novel, he did decide to release a sequel to it, focusing on survivor Danny Torrance, in 2013. The Shining has cult status as being one of Stanley Kubrick‘s best works, but can a sequel to such a classic thriller lure audiences once again to the cursed Overlook Hotel?
Years following the horrific events of ‘The Shining,’ a now-adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is afraid to turn into his old man, who was a violent alcoholic and ended up freezing to death while chasing after young Danny with an axe, into a maze he’d never get out of. Although it seems like Dan is following that path of destruction, boozing and taking drugs until he wakes up next to a messy stranger, not remembering what happened the night before, an interaction with a friendly handyman helps him get back on track. Haunted by the fear-hungry ghouls of the Overlook Hotel, he’s still in touch with his deceased Shining-mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who teaches him to lock these spirits into safe boxes in his mind, to never get out again. When Dan meets a young girl with similar powers, he will soon have to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
Mike Flanagan is one of my favourite horror directors of the last decade. Since I first got familiar with his work, back in 2011, watching his horror mirror-film ‘Oculus‘, his unique vision kept surprising me with films such as ‘Hush‘ and ‘Gerald’s Game‘ as well as his Netflix series ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. So it’s fair to say, I was very excited to see his sequel to the classic thriller. Disappointed with what was not only a series of re-imagined and added scenes out of ‘The Shining‘ with a new set of actors resembling the iconic roles Shelley Duvall, Danny Lloyd and Jack Nicholson made their own, his Doctor Sleep felt like it was set in a completely different universe. Having watched The Shining many times, I couldn’t shake off the feeling that this was nothing but a gimmick and totally unnecessary. Why not use the footage you have from the original film, or digitally create something? The technology is there and would have surprised me as a fan of the original.
When the film introduces us to The True Knot, lead by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), it becomes clear this isn’t just your typical ghost story. These “cult”-members feed on children with telepathic abilities as some sort of vampires, torturing them and scaring them until they die in true terror. One of these scenes stars a well known child actor, and showcases once again how good of an actor this kid is, with tears and screams filling the theatre. We don’t know anything about the origin of these creatures, who look like normal human beings, and this also never gets fully explained. I like a bit of mysticism, but in this case I would’ve liked to know more about them. Newest member of the pack is Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), and it’s only her and Rose that truly matter. The rest of the gang are just extras who sit around, while Rose meditates, trying to locate children with Shining-abilities, going full Professor Xavier in Cerebro. Once Rose experiences the full potential of Abra (Kyliegh Curran), in a few mind-blowing face-offs in a supermarket and one covering different locations at once, Rose realises this girl has been training her Shining into the unknown extent of her powers.
Ferguson, well known to always having to carry an entire film herself, does just that in Doctor Sleep. Her beautiful hippie character is sweet as candy, but deadly to whomever she gets her hands on. A terrifying character to play, and Ferguson balances those characteristics like it’s nothing. Newcomer Curran’s Abra is an innocent but powerful addition to the story, basically becoming one of the main characters. Unfortunately McGregor is awfully tedious as Dan Torrance, as he has so many layers to him, yet never changes things up in tone of acting. The only glimmer on screen with him, is the scene in which we find out why they name him “Doctor Sleep”, as he works night shifts at a hospice.
Flanagan’s style of directing and vision is present, very similar to his grey colour scheme in ‘The Haunting of Hill House‘. Thanks to Michael Fimognari, we get some fascinating camera angles, although the many aerial shots of all the places The True Knot visit gets tired quickly. The Newton Brothers‘ score with a pulse mostly getting on your nerves, becomes more clear when they focus on instruments and the atmosphere of the scenery itself. Their new rendition of “The Shining Main Title“, as we re-visit The Overlook, is terrific.
Doctor Sleep is an interminable jumble of different settings, feeding on the nostalgia of The Shining, knowing well enough it could never reach that level, while throwing most of it overboard to introduce an unnecessary new breed of bad. Ferguson and Curran shine in a compelling way, which makes you care less about whatever happened to Danny after the events of The Shining, and made me want to rewatch that classic film. It’s never scary or tense and has a flicker of visually stimulating moments, but mostly makes the audience’s eyes fade in anticipation of something more electrifying.
Review – ‘Doctor Sleep’
Reviewed at Event Cinemas George Street, Sydney, Oct. 31, 2019. Australian Classification: MA15+. Running time: 151 min.
PRODUCTION: A Roadshow release in association with Warner Bros. Pictures of a Warner Bros., Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment release. Producers: Jon Berg, Trevor Macy. Executive producers: Akiva Goldsmith, Stephen King, Roy Lee, D. Scott Lumpkin, Kevin McCormick, Philip Waley.
CREW: Director, screenplay: Mike Flanagan. Camera (color, widescreen): Michael Fimognari. Editor: Mike Flanagan. Music: The Newton Brothers.
WITH: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe, Cliff Curtis, Jacob Tremblay.