Doctor Sleep (2019)
Doctor Sleep (2019)

Genre: Drama and Supernatural Horror Running Time: 2 hrs. 31 min.

Release Date: November 8th, 2019 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Mike Flanagan Actors: Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Carl Lumbly, Bruce Greenwood

 


 

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nstantaneously recognizable theme music opens “Doctor Sleep,” which begins in Florida in 1980 with Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) luring another child into her deadly clutches. She’s pretty but vicious, targeting youngsters who exhibit special preternatural abilities to drain them of their life force, as if a vampire, to stay young forever. “The Shining’s like food.”

Her introduction transitions to little Danny Torrance, whose experiences at the Overlook Hotel (in the events of “The Shining”) continue to haunt him. Starving, desperate, evil spirits frequently reach out to him, following him even when he escapes back to a more normal childhood in Cedar Key, Florida (about as far away as his mother could take him from Colorado). But his gifts are particularly strong, and with the guidance of the ghost of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), routinely serving as a Jiminy Cricket-like conscience, Danny creates some potent defense mechanisms in his mind.

“You runnin’ away from something?” Years later, in New Jersey in 2011, adult Danny (Ewan McGregor) still can’t achieve normalcy, often resorting to booze to quell his wealth of psychological woes. He’s a transient, rarely staying anywhere for too long, before he stumbles into Frazier, New Hampshire, where kindhearted Billy (Cliff Curtis) sets him up with a place to stay. This leads him to a job as an orderly for Dr. John Dalton (Bruce Greenwood), where hospice work comes naturally; after all, Danny can sense when people are about to die, and consoles them during their departure with a comforting calmness that earns him the moniker Doctor Sleep. And then, 8 years pass in the blink of an eye, finding Danny sober, well-groomed, and contented for the first time in his life. But when Rose the Hat and her cultish band of soul-sucking, demonic, humanoid gypsies discovers the existence of teenaged Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), possessing an unusually powerful Shine, Danny is drawn back into an arena of specters and killers that can only come to a head at the long-abandoned, boarded-up Overlook Hotel.

The first mistake many audiences will take when approaching “Doctor Sleep” is to anticipate a follow-up to “The Shining” that is on the same level as Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece. This sequel is an entirely different film, intending to tell a very different story. For starters, the Shine has become more complex and better defined, translating into specific abilities – like superpowers – that can be categorized into areas such as telekinesis, mind-control, mind-reading, presagers, hypnotizers, and more. It’s a bit like the Force from “Star Wars,” but with a nastier edge.

But perhaps the most significant deviation from Kubrick’s original is the approach to horror. Here, there are countless jump-scares right from the start. Writer/director Mike Flanagan isn’t interested in building dread through atmosphere and character development; instead, he opts to dive straight into the ghoulish imagery, complemented by pounding heartbeat sounds and screeching violins, to forewarn of obvious scary moments. There’s simply no subtlety in the horror. Additionally, the former film’s lack of precise explanations has given way to explicable details here, which chronicle Danny’s methods of coping and controlling the gift – or curse – of his abilities (not unlike “The Sixth Sense”) and being seen as an outcast. And with this comes a rather profound commentary on death and mortality, and the way in which he morphs fear into benevolence to help or manage the ghosts (and other transcendental communicators) that stalk him.

The film also leans toward murder-mystery thrills and dark fantasy, at times more wholeheartedly than outright horror. It’s especially exciting to see the tormented become the tormenters as they turn the tables on supernatural villainy. And though the pacing could have been tighter (running a few minutes longer even than its predecessor), the climax at the Overlook Hotel is exhilarating. The antagonists have it coming to them – and there’s no place better than in the terror-fraught, spirit-infested, blood-gushing walls of the famous resort for a showdown to take place. The homages and familiarities provide a fair amount of fun, bringing back identical camera angles, locations, characters, and more as good battles evil with an axe, a typewriter, and a hedge maze. The conclusion is appropriate and satisfying, despite closing a movie that couldn’t possibly – and occasionally doesn’t try to – copy what Kubrick previously managed; “Doctor Sleep” works best as a separate entity with its own distinct tone and purpose, nodding to “The Shining” but existing largely as an independent work.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10