Movie Review: ‘Doctor Sleep’

Director: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Cliff Curtis

Plot: It’s thirty years after the events at the Overlook Hotel and Danny Torrence has become a drunk drifter. Just as he begins to build a new life for himself he connects with a powerful young psychic and learns a cult who feeds on those who ‘shine’.

Review: So. Making a sequel to one of Stanley Kubrick’s most beloved films some 40 years after the fact. What can go wrong with that? I’m just sure that it’ll be great.

Oh, Mike Flanagan is directing it? Fine, we’ll take a look. The Haunting of Hill House was a banger and we want to see more of his horror stylings. Just…do it your way, don’t try and ape Kubrick’s style.

Spoilers to follow.

What we got was a Flanagan film with a dashing of Kubrick to link the two stories together, mostly serving to give Stephen King the cinematic ending he always wanted. Kubrick (in)famously made major changes to King’s story, much to the authors chagrin. This film grafts King’s ending to The Shining onto Doctor Sleep for the purpose of…letting King sleep better, I guess?

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Back to the beginning.

After a faithful reconstruction of some events from the The Shining, young Danny Torrence has been traumatised by his experience with a haunted hotel that possessed his father and turned him into a family-murdering maniac. That’s what is assumed, the truth is that the ghosts of the Overlook have decided to haunt Danny now that the hotel has been abandoned. The ghost of Dick Hallorann (Lumbly) teaches Danny how to imprison the ghosts in a Memory Palace to free him of their presence.

Jump forward and the adult Danny (McGregor) is living bottle to bottle on the streets, using a drug and booze induced haze to keep his literal and psychological demons at bay. Danny arrives in a new town and meets Billy (Curtis), a recovering alcoholic who helps Danny get on his feet and becomes his sponsor. Now sober and working as a hospice orderly, Danny embraces his gift of ‘shining’ when he learns it can offer comfort to those close to death.

Meanwhile, we follow a clan of travelling Romani types who resemble the group of psychics from the 8th season of South Park. These are the ‘True Knot’, led by Rose the Hat (Ferguson) and they also have the ability to ‘shine’. They have enjoyed unnaturally long lives (implied to be centuries old in some cases) by tracking down children with the ‘shining’ and murdering them, inhaling the ‘steam’ they dispel upon death. Essentially, they’re eating other psychics. Danny is drawn into conflict with the True Knot when he begins communicating with Abra (Curran), a young girl with exceptionally powerful abilities that True Knot really want to feast on.

Oh, this gang also features a young girl played by Emily Alyn Lind who only gets a mention because I am convinced Disney found a way to 3D print their characters and created a real-life Elsa.

As Danny, Abra and the True Know hunt each other through America and in their own minds they eventually come a final confrontation at the remains of the Overlook Hotel where Danny most confront his past.

Bloody hell, there’s no way to summarise this plot in a reasonable amount of time. This is a big film, and it does take its time to pace the story out. Based on my experiences reading Stephen King I have no doubt that there’s been ridiculous amounts of detail and backstory already cut out. For the first two thirds the script feels solid, a steady exploration of our characters, methods and abilities. There’s some very cool sequences of the character’s intruding upon each other’s minds and this is where Flanagan’s imagination and eye for detail is at its peak.

Then we get to the big finale at the famous Overlook Hotel (which does not appear in the book due to being blown up) and things really start to wobble. This feels less like an organic conclusion to the story and more like fan service, with visual notes and recreations of classic scenes aplenty. Alex Essoe, who plays Wendy (played by a tortured Shelly Duvall in The Shining) does a great job of bringing that character back to life but the performer playing Jack Torrence/Nicholson feels like a cartoon parody and it’s more than a little jarring. After Danny battles it out with Rose the Hat we get the ending of King’s The Shining stuck on, with Danny taking on his father’s role while Abra deliver’s child Danny’s lines. It does not feel like a necessary addition to story.

Linking the new chapter to the original film is certainly important, but we felt as though this had been achieved already. When Danny meets with a doctor who is briefly plot relevant the setting and framing of the shot almost perfectly mirrors the job interview scene from the original. We can see the echoes of the first story just fine, we don’t need to travel back to the Overlook and be expected to say ‘thank you’. We especially don’t need this is as Ready Player One already played that hand and now it feels tacky.

Doctor Sleep is a reasonable companion piece to The Shining, but it no more essential viewing than that stupid conspiracy theory documentary. We did really enjoy Flanagan’s work on this, and some of the visualisation of the subconscious mind, but the third act feels like an anchor. We now more interested in seeing the second season of Haunting of Hill House.

Rating: SEVEN out of TEN