‘Doctor Sleep’ unfortunately lives up to its name
Stanley Kubrick is rolling in his grave. Fans of the Stephen King novel “The Shining,” can fairly bash Kubrick’s adaptation for not being entirely faithful. However, Kubrick knew how to adapt a book into a film, throwing out what didn’t work and adjusting for the new medium. The faults of the long anticipated cinematic follow-up “Doctor Sleep” — and there are many — are largely the faults of its source material, and King’s own inability to grasp why the original story worked in the first place.
Soon after the events of “The Shining,” young Danny Torrence is still haunted by evil spirits from the Overlook Hotel. A visit from good spirit Dick Hallorann shows him how to lock those demons away in his mind, yet in adulthood — a role played by Ewan McGregor — he resorts to booze to keep his psychic shine ability away. But his life is thrown out of balance when found by the teenage girl Abra — played by Kyliegh Curran — who can also shine, and is hunted by a cult led by Rosie — played by Rebecca Ferguson. The cult kills people like them to feed their own immortality.
Bad decisions are all over this movie, and the easiest to one point out is that it expands upon the lore in the earlier film poorly. A group of creeps roam America finding children who ‘shine’ and kills them — absorbing their dying essence like a hookah pipe. This allows them to extend their lifespans. Apparently, nobody noticed that the numerous cases of disappearing children around the country were always accompanied by the immediate arrival and departure of a gigantic train of mobile homes.
Kubrick rightfully kept a mystery who might also have this weird psychic ability. Here the movie — presumably — follows King’s novel, and expands upon that idea in an explicitly supernatural direction. This removes any mystery to the shine power, and cheapens the atmosphere established in Kubrick’s version.
But don’t think director Mike Flanagan hasn’t seen “The Shining.” The film on multiple occasions goes out of its way to redundantly reference it, often to the point of distraction. Maybe he should have used more of that screen time making the villains threatening. They could have gone after people who put up a fight instead of defenseless children.
Even when you get past the leisurely paced first 90 minutes of the movie, the action set pieces sag just as much. This is further handicapped by the laughable special effects. When the villains get killed, they turn into bad CGI skeletons, which look nothing short of embarrassing. It’s actually reminiscent of those cheesy Stephen King adaptations like “Creepshow,” “Children of the Corn,” or those low-budget tv adaptations like “The Langoliers” or “The Tommyknockers.”
The closest the movie comes to any competency is when director Flanagan goes trippy, as displayed in a cosmically themed scene where Rosie jumps into Abra’s mind from thousands of miles away. There’s also the inevitable return to the Overlook Hotel in the final act, which is lovingly recreated in decayed form.
But these moments are few and far in between, the latter being another exercise in shameless mining for the audience’s nostalgia. I wouldn’t be surprised if the film was greenlit based on that last section alone, because it only exists to exploit all the recognizable imagery from the original movie. The cast does their best — with the notable exception of an overacting Emily Alyn Lind — but the script is just so tepid.
Meaningless, creaky, limp, and artless, “Doctor Sleep” ends the 2019 Halloween movie season with a whimper rather than a bang. When it’s not shamelessly rehashing its predecessor, it’s trying desperately to create its own identity, and coming up short. Maybe a weird story about vampire-like people roaming the country killing children to live forever could work, but certainly not in a sequel to one of the greatest horror films of all time. This is a sequel that comes not 39 years too late, but too early.
- Some good performances.
- Some good horror atmosphere.
- Fantastic set recreations of the Overlook Hotel.
- Way too derivative.
- Bad effects.
- Strange expansion to the lore.