REVIEW: Doctor Sleep [2019]

Rating: 8 out of 10.
  • Rating: R | Runtime: 151 minutes
    Release Date: November 8th, 2019 (USA)
    Studio: Warner Bros.
    Director(s): Mike Flanagan
    Writer(s): Mike Flanagan / Stephen King (novel)

We don’t end.

I’m not going to lie: seeing Stephen King endorse Mike Flanagan‘s cinematic adaptation of his novel Doctor Sleep worried me. After being so vehemently vocal against Stanley Kubrick‘s changes to The Shining, the film version of the sequel would seemingly need to be religiously faithful to the text for him to laud it. The only way that happens is for it to conversely diverge from Kubrick’s masterpiece instead, rendering a middle ground between them impossible. Either Flanagan wrote and directed a continuation of the movie (hedge maze, dead Dick Hallorann, and abandoned hotel) or the book (topiary animals, living Dick Hallorann, and ashes). So when the trailer dropped with obvious callbacks to Kubrick’s original aesthetic, I couldn’t reconcile King’s praise. Only through watching the film was sense found.

Flanagan ultimately did choose one fighter from The Shining war above the other: Kubrick. Rather than simply moving forward from that decision, however, he ingeniously sought a way to posthumously coax it back towards the source. So while his Doctor Sleep can be viewed as a pure cinematic sequel for those who’ve only ever watched The Shining, it simultaneously works as a fix by marrying the new book with all the aspects of the old one that Kubrick ignored. And he doesn’t ruin anything in the process. Flanagan doesn’t erase what Kubrick did to appease Stephen King. He’s merely found an excuse to re-introduce the literary context his predecessor removed—merging the two medium’s themes, styles, and characters together for a circuitous journey that’s able to satisfy everyone.

I mean “everyone” since some Kubrick purists will surely say it does warp the director’s intent to align closer to the author, but that’s their loss. They can continue living a life where The Shining movie is all that matters. Doing so, however, would neglect the power that comes from opening this world up from the confines of the Overlook Hotel to really delve into the “shine’s” true potential as a force of good and evil. Yes it makes things more concrete (the novels are more overt about the building’s malicious intent possessing its broken caretakers instead of them going insane), but it also provides a sense of hope in the darkness. Because while we see death and destruction recycled to consume more, what becomes of the rest?

What becomes of Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) growing up with PTSD (his father Jack tried to murder him and his mother) and the desire to numb his “shine” with alcohol? What becomes of a good man’s soul like Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) after sacrificing himself for another? While Dick’s spirit can serve as a guardian angel to the boy initially (teaching him how to put the monsters that followed him from Colorado to Florida into boxes within his mind) Danny’s penchant to hide the older he gets will inevitably push his protector away with those pursuers. He must be strong enough to confront his demons in order to maintain his angels—something a new friend in Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) might just be able to help him accomplish.

This isn’t just Dan’s story anymore, though. Now that we’ve escaped the hotel’s confines, we can meet others like him and it. Flanagan starts with the bad courtesy of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the leader of a “shine” cult known as The True Knot. They’re something between human and immortal—predators who feed on the “steam” of others that “shine” (think a mixture of their power and soul a la the troll from King’s Cat’s Eye). And it’s through them that we meet Dan’s successor as child with unparalleled “shine” strength in Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). A conduit of sorts, the girl unwittingly makes herself known after feeling (and then watching) Rose and her minions kill a young boy. Now she’s next on their radar.

Abra being a radio of “shine” frequencies puts her on Dan’s radar too. He’s working in New Hampshire at a Hospice facility helping the dying conquer their fears, attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with his sponsor Billy, and conversing with his new teenage pen pal via chalk on his bedroom wall. Still afraid to unleash his full abilities (he won’t talk with his mind accept to those patients who won’t survive the night to tell anyone), Dan would like to ignore the feelings of dread he also receives whenever Rose and company (Zahn McClarnon‘s Crow Daddy, Emily Alyn Lind‘s Snakebite Andi, Robert Longstreet‘s Barry the Chunk, and Carel Struycken‘s Grampa Flick being her most important accomplices) do something bad. Abra’s safety ultimately prevents him from doing so.

Flanagan does a great job flipping back and forth between these three characters (Dan, Rose, and Abra) to show us what they can do, what they’re willing to do, and what they won’t stand by and watch happen. We fully understand the process in which Dan locks his demons away and how Rose initiates acolytes even if they are shown with varying degrees of subtlety. We go into their minds, travel thousands of miles through the air, and return to the place where it all started thirty years ago. And while the cinematic language used recalls a lot of what Kubrick’s film did (the score is a nice complement), nothing about it is mimicry. Flanagan isn’t channeling Kubrick or hiding behind his aesthetic. He’s merely doing him justice.

The stakes are heavy and the pain real. McGregor pours his heart into the role and let’s his fears rule him until realizing he can break from the torturous nightmare that was his father’s tragic demise. He can face the evil that exists outside of the Overlook not because he wants to destroy it, but because he doesn’t want it to destroy an innocent. Dan must therefore walk in both Jack’s and Dick’s shoes (Lumbly does well to embody Scatman Crothers‘ performance just like Alex Essoe recalls Shelley Duvall) to discover his own identity through their struggles and strengths. Abra, however, doesn’t have to look back. Curran isn’t a five-year old bystander, but a young heroine willing to fight. These types of wars have no place for pacifists.

That starkly dangerous tone is probably Doctor Sleep‘s best attribute because it refuses to forget the futility we felt while watching The Shining. Dan’s trajectory might be more optimistic than Jack’s ever was and Abra might get the ally Danny sadly didn’t have until it was too late, but Rose is as formidable as the Overlook ever was because she wields her weapons to attack whereas it used its ghosts to disarm. The first film put its characters on the defensive and let their lives get ravaged in the process. This one offers the opportunity to play offense if willing. People will die and scars will re-open, but the characters are ready. They know what awaits them in death and how the darkness threatens them all.

[1] © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Jessica Miglio Caption: EWAN McGREGOR as Danny Torrance in the Warner Bros. Pictures’ supernatural thriller “STEPHEN KING’S DOCTOR SLEEP,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.
[2] © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: REBECCA FERGUSON as Rose The Hat in the Warner Bros. Pictures’ supernatural thriller “STEPHEN KING’S DOCTOR SLEEP,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release
[3] © 2019 WARNER BROS. ENTERTAINMENT INC. Photo Credit: Courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures Caption: (L-r) KYLIEGH CURRAN as Abra Stone and ZACHARY MOMOH as David Stone in the Warner Bros. Pictures’ supernatural thriller “STEPHEN KING’S DOCTOR SLEEP,” a Warner Bros. Pictures release.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.