Movie review: Doctor sleep

November 14, 2019

IN 1977, Stephen King published his hit novel, “The Shining”, and it was filmed in 1980 by Stanley Kubrick. The shining means one who has a power to be clairvoyant and also mentally communicate with others who also have ‘the shine’. The movie starred Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance, Shelley Duvall as his wife Wendy and Danny Lloyd as their son, Danny, who possesses the power to shine.  Jack is an aspiring writer and recovering alcoholic who becomes the caretaker for the winter season of the historic Overlook Hotel in the snowy mountains of Colorado.

Supernatural forces inhabit the hotel and during their stay there, Jack slowly loses his sanity, putting his wife and son in danger. The hotel’s cook, Dick Halloran (Scatman Crothers), also has the shine and helps out Danny in dealing with it. The film got mixed reactions, with Stephen King himself very vocal in his dislike with the changes Kubrik made from his novel. But in the years to come, there was a re-assessment of the movie and it got favorable acclaim as one of the most influential horror flicks ever.

In 2013, King finally wrote a sequal, “Doctor Sleep”, which quickly became a best seller. It is now a movie written and directed by Mike Flanagan, who did the hit Netflix series, “The Haunting of Hill House”. Flanagan pays homage to both the movie and the book but took his own liberties in making his own version. For instance, in the book, the Overlook Hotel was destroyed, but in Kubrick’s movie, it remains standing. Just in like “Hill House”, Flanagan uses the hotel to be the location of the film’s climax, with characters going back to the original place where their problems started. It will help if you’re familiar with the first movie.

“Doctor Sleep” begins in 1980 with a little girl being lured by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the leader of a cult called True Knot, whose members “eat” the life essence of young children with ‘the shine’. We then see Danny back as a little boy biking on the corridors of the Overlook Hotel to remind us of his gift to see dead people.

The film then jumps to 2011 and we meet him as a grown up (Ewan McGregor). Dan has become an alcoholic who steals the money from the wallet of a woman he went to bed with the previous night. He then gets on a bus and lands in New Hampshire, where a kind new friend, Billy (Cliff Curtis), helps him get to Alcoholic Anonymous and a job at a hospice where he gets the film’s title, “Doctor Sleep”, because his “shine” can help its dying patients to cross over peacefully to the great beyond. This is a very moving sequence, where someone who sees ghosts now comfort folks on the threshold of death to accept it more willingly.

A young black girl with the shine, Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), connects with Dan telepathically. Her shining power is so great that Rose becomes aware of it and she intends to make her one of their own, like what they did to a teenage girl they recruited years before. The brutality and ruthlessness of Rose and her disciples are seen in a grisly sequence where they abduct a boy (Jacob Tremblay of “Room") and mercilessly torture him as pain allegedly makes the steam essence emanating from him much sweeter.

With such a steady supply of human essence, they can stay young forever. Abra sees this gruesome murder and asks the help of Dan to help locate the boy’s burial place and then track down Rose and her sinister minions. Rose sends her people to get Abra but Dan manages to thwart their plan. He knows Rose will continue to hound Abra so he baits her for a final showdown. The film’s final act is a tribute to Kubrick’s Overlook hotel, which is re-created here, along with some characters from the first movie, now played by lookalikes of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers.

This is exactly like the ending of “Hill House” where the characters go back to the haunted place, a traumatic part of their lives, to confront it. In the process, Flanagan also pays homage to the original film’s iconic scenes like the walls and elevators oozing with blood, the dizzying maze, the naked old hag in the tub, murder spelled backwards on the wall and the ghostly twins.

But this is no mere cash grab as he also made some drastic changes. In the book, Dan discovers that he and Abra’s mom are related as they have the same dad, Jack Torrance, but this is no longer even mentioned in the movie. Also, after the final confrontation with Rose, Dan gets to attend Abra’s 15th birthday party and return to the hospice to resume his being “Doctor Sleep”. The movie offers a very different ending and we don’t know if Stephen King would agree with the changes Flanagan made.

For us, though, it’s Flanagan’s right to make his own choices, like what Kubrick did before and it’s all up to posterity to judge if his movie would withstand the test of time the way Kubrick’s movie did. This is not the first time Flanagan made a King novel into a movie. He previously filmed “Gerald’s Game” for Netflix, previously thought unfilmable, and got a great performance from Carla Gugino in this psychological thriller.

“Doctor Sleep” is not the usual horror flick with its expected jump scares. Flanagan has tried that before in his previous horror flicks like “Oculus” and “Ouija”. This is more of a melancholic suspense-thriller and what we like in “Doctor Sleep” is the emotional touch in the characters of Dan as the reluctant hero and Abra as the spunky young psychic that makes the material more endearing, not just a mere shadow of Kubrick’s movie. And there’s its eerie sinister feel in the autumnal atmosphere created by the same cinematographer who worked with Flanagan in “Hill House”.

Lastly, there’s the splendid acting from the three leads: Ewan, Kyliegh and, most of all, Rebecca. Ewan captures the pain, weariness and sadness of a broken man who had a traumatic past with his mentally deranged father and had to deal with burdensome ‘shine’ all his life.

Kyliegh makes her presence felt as a young girl whose powers are something she has yet to master that maybe she should join the X-Men. That sequence in the car where Abra faces off with Rose’s lover, Crow Daddy (Zach McClarnon) is very suspenseful and how it ends is very satisfying.

As for Rebecca, her presence can be so deceitful. She seems enchanting but is actually a cold-blooded diabolical villain at heart with the most evil of intentions even when she does astral travel. Our only caveat is that it’s too long for a thriller like this. At 2 hours and a half, it will need a truly remorseless editor to trim it and quicken the pacing. But the problem is that Flanagan is also the editor and he must have fallen so in love with all the scenes he has shot and doesn’t feel it in his heart to let them just go down wasted on the cutting room floor.