Studio: Warner Bros.
Director: Mike Flanagan
Writer: Mike Flanagan
Producer: Trevor Macy, Jon Berg
Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Cliff Curtis
Old ghosts resurface to haunt Dan Torrance when he is called upon to protect a psychically gifted girl from a murderous cult.
When it comes to ※The Shining,§ I have no personal allegiance to either Stephen King＊s novel or Stanley Kubrick＊s adaptation. I know a lot of people do, particularly with respect to the latter, which many regard as a sacrosanct horror masterpiece more so than even the source material.
Such religious-like reverence surrounds ※The Shining,§ both the book and the movie, that a ※where I＊m coming from§ calibration seems in order before diving into the sequel ※Doctor Sleep.§ If for no other reason than to know whether a particular perspective belongs to a casual filmgoer or an obsessive fan.
I read the book in college. It was fine. I＊ve seen the film a few times, but not for a long while. It＊s fine too. I have however enjoyed several stays at Colorado＊s Stanley Hotel, where Stephen King was inspired to pen the story. I＊ve also visited The Timberline Lodge where the film＊s exteriors were shot too.
What I＊m getting at is I probably qualify as someone who generally respects ※The Shining§ in both incarnations. (I＊m setting the miniseries aside for now.) But I＊m definitely not a nut willing to die on any exhausted hill over whether the book was better than the movie or vice versa. I appreciate both versions on their own merits as separate entities. I＊d never soil myself over any detail that was added, altered, or removed in making the transition from page to screen.
I haven＊t read the book upon which ※Doctor Sleep＊s§ script is based either. Although I＊m aware it doesn＊t appear to be one of King＊s more popular works, I don＊t overly care what the movie does differently than the novel. I understand writer/director Mike Flanagan arranged his adaptation to serve as a sequel to both takes on ※The Shining.§ Sounds good to me.
In addition to having no clouded preconceptions about what the story should or shouldn＊t do, I＊m probably more interested in ※Doctor Sleep§ as a Mike Flanagan movie anyway (as opposed to a Kubrick or King follow-up). Every new project of his reaffirms Flanagan as one of the top contemporary filmmakers working in genre entertainment. Regardless of how one of his efforts ends up hitting anyone on an individual level, you＊re guaranteed to get something thoughtfully plotted, passionately produced, and cinematically shiver-inducing. He＊d have to fall a long way for one of his films to be not worth seeing at all.
As a Mike Flanagan film, ※Doctor Sleep§ ranks in the middle of his filmography, which isn＊t too far from where readers rank the novel as one of King＊s less mandatory reads. Although psychic mindscapes play a big part, ※Doctor Sleep§ dials down the supernatural spooks of ※Absentia§ (review here) and ※Oculus§ (review here). The film is thematically similar to ※The Haunting of Hill House§ in that its primary interest resides in exploring human drama more than inhuman scares. Alcoholism, selfishness, redemption, and fulfilling obligations to others move more of the movie than murders and ghosts do.
This makes for a mood more fantastical than frightful. Even though inspiration comes from King and Kubrick, the dreamy visualization of their ideas feels distinctly Flanagan in tone. For better as well as for worse, this simplifies separating ※Doctor Sleep§ as an entity independent of ※The Shining,§ although fervent fans of the first film may wish the two flowed together more smoothly.
As excellent as Ewan McGregor is as Dan Torrance, it takes conscious effort to remember he is supposed to be the adult incarnation of the bowl-cut boy who rode his Big Wheel all over that iconic carpet pattern in 1980. The first of two prologues catches up with Danny, Wendy, and Dick Hallorann, who is now a psychic projection, not long after Jack froze to death in the hedge maze. ※Doctor Sleep§ then advances to 2011 where we see Dan following in his father＊s footsteps by becoming a drunken drifter. Elsewhere, five-year-old Abra shocks her parents when she shows signs of the shine. Somewhere else still, ＆Rose the Hat＊ travels the country in search of gifted children for her carnie-like cult of psychic vampires to feed upon.
These three threads redirect towards each other by 2019. Basically, ※Doctor Sleep§ uses 40 minutes to pull out 40 years worth of pieces for eventual play in the same sandbox.
This makes now a prime point to bring up the movie＊s length. I＊m making more of an effort to not be a watch-checking moaner about how many minutes a movie really ※needs.§ But people put off by ※Doctor Sleep＊s§ two and a half hour runtime aren＊t wrong to be wary.
※Doctor Sleep§ could quite easily run under two hours without the core narrative taking a substantial hit. For instance, Cliff Curtis is a terrific actor and a welcome addition as Dan＊s new friend Billy. But he could be completely written out of the screenplay and the story wouldn＊t miss a beat.
Billy mostly exists to introduce Dan to the doctor who gets him a job, to Alcoholics Anonymous, and to help him rent a room conveniently outfitted with a blackboard wall. Dan could have found those things without Billy. Dan＊s imagined encounters with Dick would have sufficed as the parallel for Dan being taught to put himself out there to protect someone else. Dan could have taken on The True Knot, four of whom never speak any lines, without Billy＊s additional gun too.
※Doctor Sleep§ wouldn＊t necessarily be better off without Billy. But his inclusion illustrates how side stories add individual background bits that aren＊t critical to the primary plot. They may contribute interesting scenes in and of themselves, especially when they deepen character development. Regardless, their inessential impact still renders such moments expendable.
I daresay the hurdle here might be that Mike Flanagan shouldn＊t solely edit his own movies. The filmmaker＊s lifelong admiration of Stephen King coupled with immersion in his own storytelling could use tempering from outside eyes without the same level of investment. Even trimming ends off several lengthy establishing shots would make a difference in momentum.
Excitable enthusiasm gets in the way again in the form of excessive fan service for the finale. Dan Torrance＊s ballyhooed return to The Overlook, which doesn＊t come until close to the two-hour mark, follows Dan around the hotel as he relives memories of his mother＊s ax attack, the hag in 237＊s bathtub, and more, although someone else sees the elevator blood flood. It＊s a glass half full and empty compromise because these recreations are indeed cool to see, but they don＊t really add anything tangible to Dan and Abra＊s tale.
Henry Thomas filling in for Jack Nicholson as a vision of Dan＊s father stands out as the sorest thumb. It＊s fantastic that Mike Flanagan finds roles for his regular roster. Except Thomas neither looks nor sounds like Jack and it＊s uncomfortably awkward to watch him try. There＊s no way Flanagan saw the finished scene and thought, ※yeah, this works.§ It＊s another example of being unable to avoid indulging in an admittedly delicious Easter egg, even though it doesn＊t come close to executing the intended illusion.
Weirdly however, pacing and King winks otherwise don＊t present problems in the moment. Metronome beats pulsing in the background have a mesmeric effect that works with ethereal atmosphere to entrance attention spans. Uneasy sights and sounds unspool a hypnotic hook without lulling you to sleep through the slow smolder tempo. Only after end credits break the spell do you retroactively realize how much the movie establishes that it doesn＊t actually use to its full extent.
Casting in Mike Flanagan films continues to blend the best of established vets with fresh faces destined for future stardom. Having already introduced us to Jacob Tremblay in ※Before I Wake§ (review here), which was ready to release before ※Room,§ and to Lulu Wilson in ※Ouija: Origin of Evil§ (review here), Flanagan completes an outstanding child actor trifecta with Kyliegh Curran. As Abra, Curran exhibits rare beyond-her-years performance poise to make a meaty matchup with Rebecca Ferguson＊s alluringly evil villain. Top shelf talent stops ※Doctor Sleep§ from stagnating during its patient periods, doing a fair deal of heavy lifting to keep rhythm rolling.
Even when his lasso can＊t tighten around all the characters, beats, and honorific references he tries to wrangle, Flanagan pulls enough elements together so storytelling always spins at one speed or another. Weighed with how well actors work in singular spotlights or with each other, you＊d be hard pressed to designate ※Doctor Sleep§ as anything other than a directorial success as far as an achievement to ambition ratio goes.
Evaluated again only as a Flanagan film, ※Doctor Sleep§ meets high marks for a psychological thriller with the feel of a dark fairy tale. Its arcs ground the movie with wrenching emotion rather than gory horror. Those colors may not show up as brightly under a harsher King or Kubrick light. But wobbling on an occasional well-intentioned rail can＊t stop the train from chugging into the station on the strength of expertly crafted chills.
Review Score: 75