Movie Review: Doctor Sleep

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two half stars

R |

Director: Mike Flanagan

Writers: Stephen King (based on the novel by), Mike Flanagan (screenplay)

by Jason Koenigsberg

Making a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s The Shining is an insurmountable task that could prove to be futile if it attempts to satisfy fans of the book and fans of the movie since they are two very opposing works. Doctor Sleep is based on Stephen King’s novel that he wrote as a sequel to The Shining. Writer/Director Mike Flanagan really had his work cut out for him trying to be loyal to the books and faithful to King’s readers while also appeasing and entertaining to fans who love Kubrick’s version of The Shining which has now aged as a seminal classic of the genre. The general public are probably more familiar with Kubrick’s take on the material than the original King novel, but Mike Flanagan does have experience adapting Stephen King’s work into mainstream entertainment as he did with his Netflix movie Gerald’s Game (2017). A solid and efficient retelling of a Stephen King novel many thought (including myself) to be impossible to be made into a film for the masses. Doctor Sleep is a film for the masses but not a necessary one other than for people obsessed with The Shining. Plus, where The Shining remains one of the most terrifying haunted house movies of all time, Doctor Sleep is not scary at all. 

There is a lot of fan service to the Kubrick film. Some may call them references or an homage, but most of the finest moments of Doctor Sleep involve callbacks to the 1980 film. They are so abundant that one would really wish that Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall made an appearance. This would have been an ideal time to utilize the new de-aging technology other films have used. The movie opens up with the same music from The Shining over a birds eye view shot of a forest that slowly moves down to reveal a trailer. The opening has no real thematic ties to the film but the same music score is played throughout Doctor Sleep. The first twenty minutes show Danny Torrance as a child right after the events of The Shining where he and his mother moved to Florida and how he got over the traumatic experience of his stay at the Overlook Hotel. The film then flashes forward to 2011 where we meet an adult Danny, now called Dan, played by Ewan McGregor. He is an alcoholic like his father was. A good portion of this film as with Stephen King’s books deal with fighting the demon of alcohol. He eventually gets clean and stays sober and eight years later Dan Torrance is living a simple life in a small New Hampshire town. There he befriends a teenage girl who has the gift to “shine” like he does. The plot of Doctor Sleep involves a cult that preys on children who “shine”. The cult seek out and kill these children and harness their energy to extend their lives much longer than the average human. Eventually Danny has to save a his young friend who has from this evil cult. 

The sound design and shot set up in Doctor Sleep is meant to be reminiscent of The Shining. There is a fine line between paying reference to Kubrick and straight up imitation and depending on the viewer, this film comes very close to crossing the line into mimicry  There are moments where the references felt forced. Mike Flanagan is walking a tightrope directing this entire picture being torn between Kubrick’s version that is embedded in our heads and staying loyal to Stephen King and his novels which are very different visions. He gets by with an impressively staged climatic showdown at the Overlook Hotel near the end. Danny uses the Overlook this time as an ally to help him fight off the vile cult leader played by Rebecca Ferguson. This is a nice attempt to satisfy both viewers who love the movie and who are faithful to Stephen King’s writing. Everything about Doctor Sleep just felt so forced, unnecessary and never scary. The acting is good, so are the sets but as stated earlier, making a sequel to The Shining, one of the most beloved horror movies from one of cinemas most singularly influential directors is a thankless task. Mike Flanagan almost succeeds and there certainly are people out there who will appreciate what he has done as a continuation to one of their favorite books and/or movies, sadly I was not one of them. 

Skip Doctor Sleep and just stay home and rewatch The Shining. It is still the best haunted house movie of all time.

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