Doctor Sleep cant escape long shadow of The Shining
Review by Katie Walsh of Tribune News Service
What is the hold that The Shining has over us, culturally? Its the popularity of Stephen King, indeed, but its also, specifically, Stanley Kubricks 1980 film. The surreal and disturbing imagery, the unforgettable performances, and the films hypnotic rhythms have woven their way into our collective unconscious and have gotten profoundly stuck there. The cultural grip of The Shining is such that it has a stranglehold on Mike Flanagans adaptation of Doctor Sleep, a sequel of sorts, that it nearly chokes the life out of it.
Kings take on what happened after heres Johnny on that snowy mountain is a fascinating follow-up involving an alcoholic Danny Torrance learning to harness his shine for good, helping a young girl fight a terrifying death cult, the True Knot. Thats all present in Flanagans film, and its the most engrossing aspect, comprising the first two-thirds of this two-and-a-half-hour film. Its when Flanagans Doctor Sleep is dragged back to the Overlook Hotel that this adaptation loses consciousness.
Ewan MacGregor stars as the grown-up Danny Torrance (Alex Essoe and Henry Thomas briefly play his parents, Wendy and Jack, or versions of them, and bear incredible resemblance to both Shelly Duvall and Jack Nicholson). Dans placed his demons in their mental lockboxes and hit the bottle hard, like dad. Disturbing psychic visions drive him to a small town in New Hampshire, where he seeks solace in Alcoholics Anonymous, and a new friend, Billy (Cliff Curtis).
Though his darker thoughts are quelled in sobriety, he cant fully hide his shine, and working in hospice care, he and a psychic cat bring solace to patients at the end of their lives. But its when a young girl, Abra (Kyliegh Curran), with a powerful shine, reaches out to him that Dan is put to the test. Shes witnessed the True Knot abduct and torture a young boy (Jacob Tremblay), feeding off his steam, his psychic soul of sorts.
Theres such a rich vein of original mythology to be tapped with the True Knot, and Flanagan does flesh out their world with intriguing detail. Rebecca Ferguson is entrancing as cult leader Rose the Hat, drawing the most vulnerable, shiny, steamy prey into her trap. Their abduction and feeding rituals are disturbingly horrific and terrifying, especially considering the young victims. But Flanagan manages to build motivation and understanding (not empathy) for the True Knot, which makes the stakes that much more interesting and complex. Ferguson and Flanagan make Rose the Hat one of the best horror villains of recent years.
What makes Doctor Sleep so delightfully chewy are its many complex women, from Rose and her terrifying accomplice Snakebite (Emily Alyn Lind), to the powerful Abra, a girl with a shine so bright, she can astral pro-ject. Though Doctor Sleep takes its time ramping up and winding down, a climatic sequence with Abra and Rose facing off, climbing into each others minds, is fascinating, and Flanagan visually executes with creativity and clarity.
Its just that when Doctor Sleep ends up back at the Overlook for another Greatest Hits of The Shining that the Ambien hits. For all the fresh originality of the first half, why do we have to retread Kubricks film again? Leashing the film adaptation so closely to Kubricks film is a missed opportunity for this story to realize the full mystical potential promised.
2.5 stars out of 4.
Rating: R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use.
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Emily Alyn Lind, Alex Essoe, Henry Thomas, Cliff Curtis and Jacob Tremblay.
Director: Mike Flanagan.
Running time: 2 hours, 31 minutes.