Review of "Doctor Sleep” by The Headless Critic
Doctor Sleep – 2019
Production by: Warner Bros., Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment
Distribution by: Warner Bros.
When he was five years old Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd) and his parents Jack (Henry Thomas) and Wendy (Alex Essoe) stepped inside the Overlook Hotel in the isolated mountainous region of Colorado. The spirits that lived in the Overlook only let two of them leave. A man young Danny met when he arrived at the Overlook Dick (Carl Lumbly) had a gift similar to Danny’s. The two formed a bond being able to talk to each other in their minds without speaking a word. Dick called this power the shining. Nearly forty years later an adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) used what Dick taught him about his abilities to lock away the spirits that took his father and followed him home from the Overlook Hotel. Though he battled alcoholism for years much like his father, Dan has finally learned to live with his abilities to see dead people in the best way he knows how. He’s kept his head down and his ability quiet and built a nice little life for himself in the furthest northeast region of the United States. As far away from that evil hotel as he can get.
Somewhere south a tribe of people, well they’re not really people; they call themselves The True Knot. They travel the country in search of food. They’ve been travelling the roads for centuries. The sustenance they seek isn’t plant or animal, they feed on the steam inside humans with special abilities. They mostly feed on children because children are easily captured and easily scared. Pain and fear make even more steam for them to feed on. Eat well, live long. These near immortals take the lives of gifted people to extend their own existence. The leader of The True Knot Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) has sensed a powerful child somewhere in the northeast. Young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) is what they call a whale. Her power, her steam is so strong it's unlike any other. They haven’t fed on someone like her in decades. Abra’s been talking to her new friend Uncle Dan for years now. She’s never met him though. They only speak to each other from a great distance in their minds. Trouble is coming for Abra but Danny Torrance has faced trouble before and he can face it again.
1922 director Mike Flanagan tackles his second Stephen King story turning it into an original first time film. Unlike 1922 this King tale has a predecessor in Stanley Kubrick’s iconic The Shining. Kubrick drifted away from the 1977 King novel in his 1980 film that’s now become a classic in every Cinephiles mind. Flanagan is left to connect a sequel to a novel to a movie left in audiences minds. A task similar to what Ridley Scott attempted when author Thomas Harris wrote an ending to Hannibal to piss off Hollywood filmmakers because if he didn't write another novel they were going to make a film about his characters without him. A hotel burned down in one universe that survives in another. Characters are forgotten, rewritten and resurrected from book to film. It’s rare to film a movie adaptation that doesn’t take liberties with the source material and Mike Flanagan tries to please them all losing a little of the heart of the origins in the process but that's made more relatable to those who've only seen the film.
I personally don’t care for the King concept of people carrying “steam” as a source to their abilities which the foundation of his sequel novel is based. With steam as a basis, opposing forces, one who forcefully takes the steam from the living to help them live longer and one who takes dying people’s steam to help them move on is a nice rival concept that’s a little lost in the overlooked portrayal of Danny Torrance’s life in the feature. There is a brutal scene with The Baseball Boy (Jacob Tremblay) that is hard to watch due to Tremblay’s powerful performance. The scene gets across the evil of The True Knot who otherwise could be found too sympathetic by the audience. Rebecca Ferguson is amazing as Rose the Hat. Besides the awful beard Ewan McGregor hits the right mark as Danny Torrance. Even though the book had a lot of Jack Torrance I think Flanagan should have skipped the Jack Nicholson look-a-like and just written the character visually out of the film. Nicholson’s Jack is too iconic to mess with and you still have the powerful scene of Dan revisiting his dad’s busted down bathroom door.
The short run down is, it’s not The Shining. Audiences seem to love it with cries of the best film of the year. I found it barely better than average and no where near a worthy sequel. There's a complete overuse of the scariest parts of The Shining including blood coming from the elevator and the naked old lady in the bath tub. The reason these scenes were some of the scariest in the history of cinema is because they were used sparingly and with purpose in Kubrick's The Shining. I saw the naked old Mrs. Massey so many times in Flanagan's Doctor Sleep I'm rolling my eyes every time she appears.
Normally I’d have issues with a movie leaving out parts of the book but as I was never attached to the Doctor Sleep book I only care about the film leaving out parts that made more sense like "Uncle" Dan carrying steam. The members of The True Knot are treated as side characters going largely unexplored when characters like Granpa Flick (Carel Struycken) and Snakbite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind) are some of the most intriguing characters in the entire novel and film. The group get killed off too early and entirely too easy, leaving the final battle at the Overlook hotel needing more of a threat than a single lady in a hat. There’s also a big gaping flaw in the film. If an almost immortal group can be so easily killed at the end of a bullet why do we need to unleash a lifetime of work, locking away monsters and staying away from a place that traumatized you as a child to kill the last immortal? Why not just buy another bullet? The return to the Overlook hotel as the film portrays it is absolutely pointless. It's done just to end the sequel how Stephen King's original The Shining ended in novel before Stanley Kubrick changed it for his film.
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3 out of 5 Headless Critics