It was only recently that I got to experience The Shining, and on the silver screen, at that. While not joining my list of favorite films, not even topping in its director’s collection, with chilling performances, iconic imagery, and timeless terror always riding on a razor’s edge, it’s inarguably earned its place in the annals of film history. Nearly forty years later, Mike Flanagan has taken the thankless task of adapting a sequel to Kubrick’s monolith of terror with Doctor Sleep. Sadly, the movie disappoints on almost every single level.
Doctor Sleep works off Stephen King’s 2013 novel as a fully grown Danny, now going by Dan, drifts from town to town as an alcoholic mess. Disturbed by his father’s crazed rampage at the Overlook Hotel and his traumatic power to commune with the malicious undead, the Shining, Dan eventually reconciles with his demons and becomes a sober hospice worker who guides the dying towards a peaceful end using his psychic abilities. Eight years pass and Dan’s quiet existence is rattled when his young, telepathic pen pal, Abra, finds herself in the crosshairs of the True Knot, an evil clan of soul eaters who feed on children and their extrasensory powers.
Though let down by very blah material that wastes tons of juicy character and story potential, Ewan McGregor is half decent as the damaged adult Danny. He isn’t given much to work with, but he heavily carries the scenes involving Kyliegh Curran, whose performance as Abra reeks of early, unfortunately not very good child acting. There’s a promising dynamic going between the two as Dan serves as a mentor of sorts to Abra, protecting and guiding her through the Shining while finding himself completely out of his depth witnessing her extensive telepathic powers.
To the film’s detriment, there’s no underlying narrative created from these substantive bits of story, though. The movie plays host to the most basic of storylines involving overcoming addiction and trauma, but even that doesn’t feel like the piece’s focus given it’s a problem solved handily within the film’s first act. Neither Danny nor Abra are given arcs to develop through despite hints of darkness looming within the young girl, and, annoyingly, Danny doesn’t seem to react at all to her troublingly vengeful attitude, either.
Rebecca Ferguson comes through in her sumptuously frightening role as the True Knot’s leader, Rose the Hat (her cool headwear at least doesn’t disappoint), and Carl Lumbly gets a few nice scenes picking up from Scatman Crothers as the ghost of the Overlook’s deceased chef, Dick. But with so little going on around them, there’s a limit to how much they’re able to keep the movie afloat. Where The Shining masterfully chronicles a disturbed man’s descent into madness and leaves itself open to dozens of larger interpretations, there’s nothing to glean from Doctor Sleep.
Mike Flanagan’s proven himself a talented horror director, and while Doctor Sleep is ably directed, his script leaves too much wanting. I haven’t read the novel, so I’m unclear if that’s a problem from King’s source material or just the screenplay itself. Aside from following up one of film history’s greatest works with such blah-ness, this wouldn’t be the biggest problem if the movie was at least investing to watch, but Doctor Sleep takes an entire buck and quarter of its whopping two and a half hour runtime to set the pieces before its story even gets started. From then on, the movie unfolds feels like a loose cascade of events that lack a convicting narrative push to invest in, at least until its finale, which…
With psychic vampires and whatnot, Doctor Sleep feels removed enough from its predecessor to be its own thing. At the same time, particularly during its two sandwiching ends, the movie heavily, cheaply, almost disrespectfully relies on one’s nostalgia for The Shining to succeed. Kubrick’s sharp, focused vision is practically exploited and dragged through the mud for the sake of tickling one’s exposure (however superficial) to his immortalized imagery and dialogue, all for the sake of a “hey, I know that!” reaction from an audience.
Some movie are like people; some are rotten, some aren’t