Updated: Nov 15, 2019
Directed By: Mike Flanagan, Wrtten By: Mike Flanagan & Stephen King (Novel), Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Cliff Curtis, Kyliegh Curran.
As I sit down to write this review, I’m struggling to recollect a time where I have felt so confused or conflicted over how I feel about a film. To write it off as a bad movie would be too glib and careless. To say that I thought it was a great movie wouldn’t reflect how I really feel either. Truth be told, I don’t know how to recommend Doctor Sleep.
I should start by expressing my love for The Shining. In-fact ‘love’ doesn’t do justice to it. I have seen it more times than I can count, and with each viewing, I love it that bit more. Controversially, and while I also love Stephen King’s book, I prefer Stanley Kubrick’s vision. Please don’t hate me Mr King, “I’m your number one fan. ”
I should also point out that I am a huge fan of Mike Flanagan. I have loved everything he has put out prior to Doctor Sleep. I loved Hush. I loved Occulus. I loved Absentia. I also loved his previous ‘King’ adaption, Gerald’s Game. Plus, who can forget The Haunting of Hill House? What a show that was. So obviously I went into Doctor Sleep with high expectations. Maybe that was my downfall Maybe I expected too much.
I had begun reading King’s novel a little while ago, hoping to get it finished before they released the film. Sadly, life got in the way, what with running this site and writing a novel of my own. So I ventured to the cinema having read only half the book. My wife had finished it and was on hand to tell me how different from the book the film was. I expected that. It had to be as it’s a follow up to Kubrick’s film, not King’s story. She thought the book was better by the way.
Maybe I should start with a brief rundown of the story. Little Danny Torrance, from The Shining, is all grown up (and now looks like Ewan McGregor), but sadly the apple hasn’t fallen far from the tree as it seems Danny is destined to follow in his father's footsteps, on a self-destructive path of alcoholism and violence. Traumatised by the events at the Overlook Hotel, all those years ago, he drinks to forget. He also drinks to numb his Shine.
Danny has laid many of the ghosts of his past to rest, thanks mainly to the tutelage of the ghost of Dick Hallorann (this time played by Carl Lumbly). Dick has taught Danny a neat little trick that involves creating boxes in his mind to store the spirits of the Overlook.
Danny eventually crosses paths with and befriends a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). Abra also has the shining, on a scale that Danny has never experienced before. Unfortunately, Danny isn’t the only one drawn to Abra’s power. Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), leader of a cult known as The True Knot, plans to seek out Abra and harvest her Shine, or Steam as Rose calls it. Danny takes it upon himself to protect Abra by any means necessary, luring Rose to the Overlook for a final showdown.
To make some semblance of sense out of my feelings towards Doctor Sleep, let’s first look at what worked for me. Who knows, maybe it will work as a form of therapy, helping me towards a more absolute stance on whether or not I like it. There will be huge spoilers involved in this breakdown. You have been warned.
I like Ewan Mcgregor’s portrayal of Danny. Danny’s downward spiral, due to the mental scarring his childhood caused, was both believable and understandable. His need to get his life back on track and do something that matters to avoid becoming his father was well put across. McGregor’s performance was great, and you could really empathise with his internal struggle.
Kyliegh Curran did a great job as Abra. Her turn as a young girl, knowing how vastly different she is but struggling to fit in, before finally embracing her true self was fantastic. I’ve mentioned before how I’m easily irked by children in movies but I can’t fault Curran’s performance. There could be a hell of a career ahead of her.
The return to the Overlook. It’s abundantly clear that Flanagan loves The Shining, and I have to take my hat off to him. Being charged with following on from Kubrick must have been a daunting task. I doubt that any respectable filmmaker would have taken it lightly. From the moment Danny informs Abra of his plans to lead Rose the Hat to the Overlook the film shifts into homage gear. Cue that familiar, ominous score and fully reconstructed aerial shot that follows our heroes car through the winding, Colorado, mountain roads, on route to that hotel.
Once they arrive at their destination, Danny instructs Abra to stay in the car while he goes to switch the place on. What follows is a lovingly crafted nostalgia trip as Danny wanders through the halls of The Overlook, passing its many haunted, familiar locations, until finally reaching that famous, axe damaged bathroom door. I have to admit; the nostalgia won me over. The Overlook Hotel was as an important character as any of its human inhabitants in The Shining and it was wonderful to get another look at it. To see what had become of it. I could almost empathise with how Flanagan, a lifelong horror fan like myself, must have felt, getting to play on these iconic sets.
Now let’s get to the stuff I know I didn’t like. The biggest problem I had was with the recasting of some of the characters from The Shining. Namely Jack and Wendy. I get that their parts in the movie were relevant to the story, but I found it too distracting. Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall are so indelibly etched into my brain as these characters that it wouldn’t allow me to accept the characters being played by other actors. This time Jack and Wendy are played by Henry Thomas and Alex Essoe, and while they both did a fine job, it just didn’t work for me. Maybe, had these characters been filmed from behind or slightly obscured off-camera it would have been less of a problem.
While I really liked Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, I didn’t enjoy The True Knot as the film's antagonists. There were points in the movie where I forgot I was watching a sequel to The Shining and actually thought I was watching an X-Men movie. Their powers lent more to the plot of a Marvel film than to that of a follow up to one of the best horror movies ever made.
There is a really silly point towards the end of the movie where Danny has lured Rose into the room used by his father in the original as his writing room. It all starts off well. Danny stands at the top of the stairs brandishing an axe and Rose is ascending the stairs, in a manner very similar to how Jack, menacingly ascended, while taunting the baseball bat-wielding Wendy. So far so good, until.. Rose and Danny tussle. Rolling around on the floor, Danny opens his memory boxes. Remember them? I mentioned earlier how Danny had built them to contain the ghosts of the Overlook. So Danny opens these boxes and Bam! Suddenly, every memorable ghost is unleashed on Rose. It felt gimmicky and stupid. The Overlook ghosts all huddled and waiting like the monsters from The Monster Squad. The Twins, the old lady from 237, Grady, all of them. As they appeared and attacked Rose, it reminded me of that scene in Cabin in the Woods, where the elevator's ding and every monster imaginable is released to murder the soldiers. It felt silly and out of place in this movie.
Finally, and this is a big sin. It’s just not scary. At no point during its runtime, did I feel on edge, or unnerved by what was happening. It’s a sequel to The Shining. I expect scary.
As this review is drawing to a close, I don’t feel that talking about it has helped. I’m still as conflicted as I was at the beginning. If I suggested that it wasn’t very good and that you should give it a miss, I may very well be wrong. I would have talked you out of seeing a film that you might love.
If I raved about how great it is and recommended that you don’t miss it, I may very well be wrong. You would go and see it and think that I have no idea what I’m talking about and that I should leave this reviewing lark to the professionals.
Reviewing films is generally an easy process. There may be a film that you really liked, although certain aspects might not have worked for you or vice versa.
I think I need to see this movie a few more times. Maybe a repeat viewing will help me to make my mind up. It’s not a bad film. It’s clearly made with a love of both King’s books and Kubrick’s film.
I really am a big Mike Flanagan fan. It’s just a shame I left the cinema confused and frustrated.
I am keen to know what other people thought though so if you read this review and have an opinion, then feel free to voice it in the comments section below.