Doctor Sleep (2019) Review
YOU’RE MAGIC. LIKE ME!
In 1980, director Stanley Kubrick, who became famous with such iconic movies like 2001: A Space Odyssey, A Clockwork Orange, and Full Metal Jacket, presented the psychological horror film titled The Shining. Adapted from author Stephen King’s book of the same name (released back in 1977), the movie, which starred Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers, and Danny Lloyd, follows Jack Torrance’s descent into madness when he agrees to take care of the Overlook Hotel, a place that long history of violence, and put his family (his wife Wendy and son Danny) in a psychotic nightmare of paranoia and violent acts of aggression during their stay there. Upon its release, The Shinning faced mixed reviews from critics, with author Stephen King criticizing the film due to its deviations from his original novel. However, the assessment of Kubrick’s feature became more and more favorable in the following decades and is now widely regarded as one of the greatest (and influential) horror film in cinema history. Nowadays, The Shining is widely acclaimed by today’s critics and has become a staple in pop culture, with various project doing cameo / parodies of Kubrick’s film. Additionally, in 2018, the film was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”. Now, roughly thirty-nine years after the release of Kubrick’s The Shinning, Warner Bros. Pictures and director Mike Flanagan presents the follow-up to the 1980’s classic with the film Doctor Sleep; based on author Stephen King’s 2013 sequel novel of the same name. Does this long-awaited next chapter to Danny Torrance “shine” or is a rather “dull” and bloated endeavor?
After surviving the nightmare at the Overlook Hotel in 1980, which saw the death of father, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor has a found a long and lonesome battle with depression and alcoholism, becoming a broken and ruined man trying to maintain control of “The Shining”, receiving help from Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) on how to pacify the peculiar ability and demons that haunt him from within. Finding kindness from Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), Danny is put on a road to recovery; offering a place to stay, a job, and a sense of purpose of managing his past trauma, facing memories of life with his mother, Wendy (Alex Essoe) and the specters that continue to swirl around him. While using his gifts to bring comfort to the dying inside a nursing home, Danny is visited by Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl with powerful connection to The Shining. However, while Danny and Abra share passive bond over their unique gifts, the young girl’s incredibly powerful talents have been noticed by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), and her True Knot cult, with the evil woman skilled with the Shine, sustaining herself and her loyal followers as they feed on the “steam” of others capable of conjuring Shining. Realizing the untapped and raw power that Abra possesses, Rose and her cult begin to track her down, forcing Danny to confront his past to preserve the girl’s future.
THE GOOD / THE BAD
Naturally, being a fan of cinematic tales and just plain old fashion filmmaking, I did see (and appreciated) The Shining. Although….I didn’t see it until much later in my life. Of course, I wasn’t the biggest fan of horror movies, especially since I have an active imagination, so I was quite keen on seeing it and being particularly scared by it. That being said, I did know about all the classic one-liners (i.e. “Here’s Johnny!”) and some of the iconic scenes (i.e. the twin girls down the hallway) from the movie due to my love pop culture references made in various TV shows and movies I’ve seeing in my childhood / teenage years. To be honest, I really didn’t get to see Kubrick’s The Shinning until I was in my early 20s (can’t remember exactly), but I have to admit that I really did like it. Like many out there, I did hear about Stephen King not really being a fan of Kubrick’s film of his work and, while I have never read King’s book, I can probably understand why he felt that way. Still, despite the opinion, I did appreciate The Shinning and it I think it deserves it place in cinematic history for being both iconic and memorable throughout the years.
Of course, this takes me back to talking about Doctor Sleep, a 2019 motion picture that acts as the long-awaited sequel to both King’s original novel and to Kubrick’s 1980 movie. Since I do work in a bookstore for so many years, I do remember seeing (and shelving) Stephen King’s 2013 novel titled Doctor Sleep and help sell to several customers who were eager to read of The Shinning sequel. Flash forward a few years and I remember coming across the “newsfeed” announcement that Doctor Sleep would be getting a film adaptation with a release date set for October 2019. This really didn’t come to as a surprise as many of King’s works (novels, novellas, short stories, etc.) have been making their way onto both the big and small screen, including The Dark Tower, IT, Pet Semetary, and several others. Additionally, after seeing the film’s movie trailer, I was curious to see how this new movie would ultimately pan out and how it would be received by both viewers of King’s novels and of fans of Kubrick’s memorable movie. So, I decided to check this movie a few weeks after its release, but, due to my work schedule (working retail), I didn’t get the chance to actually complete my review until sometime after. So, here is my thoughts on 2019’s Doctor Sleep. What did I think of it? Well, it was pretty interesting and intriguing, but Doctor Sleep could’ve been a tad bit better in how it handles in storytelling and in its own ambitious for cinematic glory. What’s presented is really good and engaging, but meanders through a lot of unnecessary workings and complexities that either could’ve been trimmed or expanded upon. Still, it’s one sequel that “shines” better than most.
As a side-note, I didn’t get the chance to read King’s Doctor Sleep nor his original novel of The Shinning. Thus, my review will be majority based on the two feature films and not so much on what was add, change, or omitted from King’s 2013 bestseller.
Doctor Sleep is directed by Mike Flanagan, whose previous directorial works includes such movies like Gerald’s Game and Before I Wake as well directing episodes from the hit TV show The Haunting of Hill House. Even his attraction to a few ghoulishly horror induced endeavors, Flanagan seems like a suitable choice in helming a project like this and delves right into the darkly mind from King’s story. As a whole, Flanagan does a great job as director for the film; presenting King’s sequel tale in an intriguing that way that offers up plenty of mystery and adds to the mythos of what Kubrick’s The Shinning was able to creating (cinematically speaking). Of course, the movie does focus on the adult iteration of Danny Torrance as the somewhat main focal point, but Flanagan allows plenty of time for Abra (a young girl with tremendous powers within) and Rose the Hat (a villainous leader of a drifter cult that seeks out people with the “shinning” for substance / energy). These three main characters are the focus of Doctor Sleep, with Flanagan spending great time with them, which allows the characteristic and acting talents (more on that below). Of course, Flanagan sets the stage for a return to The Shinning’s iconic Overlook Hotel in the film’s third act set-piece and certainly delivers on visually stunning horror feature that plays very much like an extension of Kubrick’s classic film. That being said, Flanagan makes Doctor Sleep stand on its own merits; acting as a proper sequel with its own story to tell rather than relying heavily on what’s come before.
Additionally, Flanagan plays “double duty” in Doctor Sleep as both director of the film as well as screenplay writer. Again, I haven’t read King’s 2013 novel of the same name, but (from what I heard) the movie does a better job in adapting King’s source material more so than what Kubrick did with The Shinning. Plus, being a horror film, Flanagan does have some scary delights peppered throughout the movie. Some might argue that the movie doesn’t have enough or not as super scary as some were hoping it to be, but I actually found the horror elements to work well within Doctor Sleep’s context, with Flanagan deliver some chilling moments throughout. All in all, Flanagan creates an engaging slow burner feature that really does honor King’s and Kubrick’s endeavors as well as being and engrossingly entertaining piece of horror delight of a suspenseful drama.
In the presentation category, Doctor Sleep is a well-built and well-made feature film that feels quite unique and layered within its story. Naturally, the movie does take a step “back in time” to The Shining’s Overlook Hotel (and all the creepiness that comes along with it), but also is able to manage in creating various new set-pieces, including the drifter’s bohemian lifestyle of the True Knot cult. Thus, the production team behind it all, including Maher Ahmad and Patricio M. Farrell (production design), Gene Serdena (set decorations), and Terry Anderson (costume designs), should commended for their work in making Doctor Sleep’s background world both concrete in reality and ghoulishly fun in its spookier set-pieces / sequences. Plus, the cinematography work by Michael Fimognari (a frequent collaborator with Flanagan) offer up plenty of visually striking moments throughout the feature and adds plenty of theatrical nuances to make Doctor Sleep hauntingly beautiful within many of its scenes. Lastly, the movie’s score, which was composed by The Newton Brothers (Andy Grush and Taylor Newton Stewart) presents a beautiful and macabre feeling throughout; playing up the somberness that await our heroes and villains of the film in the movie’s narrative and the haunts that pervade their minds. Of course, hearing the classic main theme from The Shining in the movie is great.
There are a few problems that hinder the movie from reaching its sizeable and lofty aspirations that Flannigan wanted to reach with Doctor Sleep. Perhaps the most apparent one that many will agree with me on is in the lengthy runtime the movie has. Clocking in at around 152 minutes (two hours and thirty-two minutes), Doctor Sleep feels incredibly long. Of course, this means that the movie has room to “breathe”, with Flanagan allowing more to time invest in the heroes and villains of the story and exploring the full extent of King’s material. This is probably why fans of the book will most likely enjoy this adaptation than say something like 2017’s The Dark Tower. That being said, much like 2019’s IT: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep feel quite excessive and overextends itself within the runtime allotted. Because of this, the movie is quite long, despite the engaging story to tell from King’s source material, and has a difficult time in trying to keep the pace fresh. This is especially noticeable during the film’s first act, which certainly does lay the ground work for the film’s characters of Danny, Abra, and Rose, but in a slower pace manner. Yes, I do agree (and was expecting) that Doctor Sleep was gonna be somewhat of a “slow burner” type of movie, but there should’ve been a bit more urgency to the story’s narrative and for a better / tighter editing of scenes together in Doctor Sleep’s final cut.
Thus, there is a sluggish in various parts of the film, with Flanagan trying to examine a variety of facets within the main heroes and villains. However, this only muddles things as certain events and scenarios that play out in the movie feel a thinly sketched, with some moments linger too long and others too short. There’s a great sense of duality “give and take” with the movie as I feel that Flanagan (both in directing and screenplay writing) could’ve handled these scenes and ideas in a much better light. As I said, the beginning of the movie feels long and overstuffed with intros as the really “bulk” and plot of the feature gets underway in the second act. This also extends to the third act, which really is the climax and most interesting piece that the movie has to offer, but some sequences, including where Danny sort of confronts his father’s memory at the Overlook Hotel, run a bit long and could’ve been better handled in the feature’s grand scheme. Additionally, I kind of wished that the movie had a bit more “references” and connection to The Shinning (be it Kubrick’s movie or King’s original material). Yes, Flanagan makes Doctor Sleep stand on its own and offers up as compliment (and entertaining) sequel to the original story of which it extending itself from, but I kind of wanted more ties to the original. I’m not saying that the movie goes completely off the rails, but all of these criticisms don’t quite help the sequel from reaching excellence that it so desperately what to achieve. Does this mean that Doctor Sleep is better or less than The Shining? It’s hard to say as it will depend on the viewers. Personally, I do like The Shinning slightly better, but Doctor Sleep, despite bloated runtime, is able to expand upon King’s mythos of “The Shine” and those who craves the special gift for substance.
The cast in Doctor Sleep helps strengthen the movie’s appeal and entertainment, with the selection of actor and actresses playing these characters in a well-mannered and well-acted way; providing some multi-layered performances. Perhaps one has to look the main characters of the film (two protagonist and one antagonist) to see this, with actor Ewan McGregor and actresses Kyliegh Curran and Rebecca Ferguson leading the charge in this category as the characters of Danny Torrance, Abra Stone, and Rose the Hat. First, McGregor, known for his roles in Trainspotting, Moulin Rouge!, and the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy, does a solid job in the role of the adult version Danny Torrance, a man who is haunted by childhood trauma and a fragile man who is looking for escape from it. McGregor channels that failed “everyman” quality in Danny, but easily makes him the true main protagonist of the feature and fun to see the classic character from The Shining all grown up. Likewise, Curran, known for her roles in I Can I Will I Did and Sulphur Springs, is quite a likeable protagonist character; finding a charming youthfulness within Abra (a young girl who makes a “shining” connection with Danny). You definitely feel for her character in the movie as she quickly get involved with Danny’s life as well as being hunted by Rose’s True Knot cult, with Abra quickly learning (on the fly) on how she can control her abilities. Thus, Curran is great as Abra. Lastly, Ferguson, known for her roles in Life, Mission Impossible: Fallout, and The Greatest Showman, is great as the wicked Rose the Hat, the leader of the True Knot cult faction. Rose is definitely beautifully, but definitely having that maleficent ruthless underneath, which makes the character quite an interesting / fascinating antagonist villain. Plus, Ferguson’s portrayal is quite fun and convincing. Loved her in the role.
With the movie focusing heavily on these three main characters, the rest of the Doctor Sleep players, including actor Cliff Curtis (Fast & Furious Presents: Hobbs & Shaw and Fear the Walking Dead) as Danny’s friend, co-worker, and AA sponsor Billy Freeman, actor Zahn McClarnon (Into the West and Mekko) as Rose the Hat’s lover / right-hand man Crow Daddy, actress Emily Alyn Lind (Revenge and Replicas) as the recent member of the True Knot cult Snakebite Andi, actor Bruce Greenwood (Star Trek and Thirteen Days) as leader of Danny’s AA group and boss at the hospice Dr. John Dalton, actor Jacob Tremblay (Good Boys and Wonder) as a young boy named Bradley Trevor who also as “the shine”, actress Alex Essoe () who plays Danny’s mother (originally played by Shelly Duvall in Kubrick’s The Shinning), actor Carl Lumbly (Men of Honor and A Cure for Wellness) as the former cook of the Overlook Hotel who has “the shining” Dick Hallorann (original played by actor Scatman Crothers in Kubrick’s The Shinning), and actor Zackary Momoh (Harriet and Seven Seconds) and actress Jocelin Donahue (StartUp and The House of the Devil) as Abra’s parents David and Lucy Stone, are delegated to supporting roles throughout the movie. While some have large parts than others, all of these acting talents are solid and bolster the main trio of characters in the movie’s narrative.
The world’s a hungry place and a dark place as Danny Torrance gets sucked back into the world of mystery and confronts past in the movie Doctor Sleep. Director Mike Flanagan latest film takes Stephen King’s 2013 bestselling novel and present an engaging cinematic tale that feels like compliment sequel piece to Kubrick’s The Shinning. While the movie does struggle within its lengthy runtime (going off on tangents and having pacing issues), the film finds its stride within its source material, Flanagan’s direction, the acting talents (especially McGregor, Curran, and Ferguson), and just a solid sequel endeavor that works more than it supposed to. Personally, I liked this movie. While the lengthy runtime felt unnecessary and some things could’ve been better handled, I did appreciate the movie (as a whole) and found it to be quite intriguing and satisfactory to my liking. Thus, my recommendation for this movie is a solid “recommended” as I’m sure it will please fans looking for a sequel to The Shinning (a better sequel endeavor than most of Hollywood’s recent projects) as well (so I’ve been told) a wholesome adaptation of King’s novel. Even King himself has praised the movie for being a worthy adaptation. In the end, while many will argue over which Stephen King film adaptation (or TV production) is the best one, Doctor Sleep is worthy addition to that caliber of likeability. It may not “shine” as bright as it could’ve been, but it’s definitely worth a look at; finding a horror nuances of cinematic storytelling within its tale.
4.1 Out of 5 (Recommended)
Released On: November 8th, 2019
Reviewed On: December 13th, 2019
Doctor Sleep is 152 minutes and is rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity, and drug use