By: Hawk Ripjaw (Two Beers) –
Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is still haunted by the events at the Overlook Hotel decades prior. In the time since, he has learned to wrangle the spectres that pursue him into boxes inside of his mind, and has resorted to heavy alcohol dependence to stifle his Shine. He reaches rock bottom when he goes home with a girl, leaves her unconscious and covered in her own vomit with her child, and takes the money that she stole from him. Moving across the country, he begins his recovery from alcoholism and joins hospice as an orderly. He finds a use for his Shining by sitting with patients on their deathbed and guiding them into the afterlife, earning the nickname Doctor Sleep.
Elsewhere, a group of psychic vampires known as the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), extend their lengthy lifespans by capturing children that have the Shining and torturing and killing them to absorb “steam” generated by the Shining. They have set their sights on Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), an extremely powerful telepathic young girl who will satisfy the thirst of the True Knot for weeks. Danny telepathically connects with Abra, and realizes her powers can help him track and defeat the True Knot, and to do so is the only way to keep the young girl safe.
Mike Flanagan is always an interesting choice of director for a horror film, in a very good way. He’s got a specific style, in which he introduces tangible, genuine horror elements but has them function as counterparts to themes of grief, loss, trauma, and personal demons. Overcoming the monsters in his stories is just as important as conquering and often accepting personal struggles and trauma. It’s a resonant and impactful approach, particularly here as Danny’s fears, traumas, and addiction are tightly woven together. Ewan McGregor’s performance is textured, engrossing, and believable as an adult Danny and really does feel like the same character from the original film.
Consequently, Doctor Sleep is a slow and complex narrative that is more thriller than horror, but has horrific moments, drawn-out tension, and effective character moments that put as much stock into its characters’ emotional development as it does chilling horror. Both are delivered in spades. Ever since the Overlook, Danny has been haunted by the spectre of the naked woman. He’s learned of ways to cope and conquer, but he’s also followed in his father’s footsteps and descended into alcoholism. Commendably, this is handled mostly well. While Danny’s journey to recovery from alcoholism is portrayed in a single scene, he is tempted by the bottle twice more in the second and third acts. The first time, he’s anguished by a setback and very nearly drinks, and the second time, he argues with Lloyd the Bartender at the Overlook about alcohol being the “medicine” for raising a family, as Lloyd takes on a likeness of his father.
As for the horror and tension, this is just what the doctor ordered. A scene in which we see exactly what the True Knot does with their young victims is one of the most horrifying, visceral, and memorable of anything else this year. You’d expect the camera to look away from what they do, and while the actual stabbing is not directly seen, the film allows Jacob Tremblay to absolutely go for it in portraying his character’s suffering. Apparently Tremblay’s anguished performance was extremely troubling to Rebecca Ferguson in how realistic it was.
Later, Rose performs a sort of astral projection in which she flies over the world in search of her prey. What originally looks like one of the dream sequences from The Big Lebowski shifts to show Rose floating in space as a gigantic vertical 3D canvas of the world scrolls in front of her. It’s an incredibly striking image, and coupled with the haunting score from The Newton Brothers, makes for one of the most unforgettable scenes of the year.
Doctor Sleep has a dilemma:
– It wants to be an adaptation of Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep.
– It wants to do right by the original Shining novel, given King’s infamous distaste for Kubrick’s film.
– It needs to be a direct sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining, since that’s the one people are familiar with.
The movie tries to have its cake and eat it too, which is really only an issue in the finale. It’s here where the movie falls apart. Up until the final 30 minutes, it’s well-paced, has a lot going on, but is character-focused and gripping. The finale is completely beholden to to its predecessor and feels like a jarring detour.
It’s worth recognizing that Flanagan had to make a business decision in directly referencing the original film for brand recognition, and there’s absolutely no easy (or perhaps even possible) way to make a sequel that respects the dueling sensibilities of King and Kubrick. It’s not even necessarily an issue to call back to The Shining, but the finale of Doctor Sleep is less a climax and more a revolving gallery of “remember that?” moments from the original. That being said, the recreation of the opening moments of The Shining as a segue into this finale was suitably epic. The tracking shot across the lake and the recreation of the original theme felt like a build-up to something massive, and it absolutely worked.
Upon reflection, I wonder if Doctor Sleep would have functioned better as a miniseries. The world of this film is huge and introduces a lot of ideas that suggest more character development for Danny, more time with the True Knot, and overall more flavor for the population of people who Shine. It works well as just a movie, and it is never boring. There’s just such a richness to these characters and their dynamics that I really wanted to get more of it after it was over.
Doctor Sleep is at its best when Flanagan is working in his very distinct wheelhouse. His skill at depicting psychological demons alongside visceral horror is practically unmatched in the industry. As he displayed with last year’s remarkable Gerald’s Game, his style is a great fit for King’s themes, this long-awaited sequel is further proof of a great pairing of storytellers.
Doctor Sleep (2019) Movie Drinking Game
Take a Drink: for every jump scare.
Take a Drink: for every direct call back to The Shining.
Do a Shot: every time Rose says “hello” or some variation thereof.
Take a Drink: every time the heartbeat sound begins.