08th Nov2019

‘Doctor Sleep’ Review

by Alex Ginnelly

Stars: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Selena Anduze, Robert Longstreet, Carel Struycken, Catherine Parker, James Flanagan, Met Clark, Zackary Momoh, Jocelin Donahue | Written and Directed by Mike Flanagan

Doctor-Sleep-Poster-2

Doctor Sleep can never quite find what it wants to be. Stuck between an adaptation of Stephen Kings novel and Stanley Kubrick’s movie, Doctor Sleep sinks somewhere in the middle, but not without a fair attempt at being both.

The Shining is perhaps one of, if not the, most famous horror film of all time. Even if you’ve never seen it, you know of axe wielding Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson in the most Jack Nicholson performance of all time. It’s a voice and line that’s heard by everyone who’s ever heard of a movie, the famous ‘here’s Johnny’ is cemented into pop culture, and in essence so is the rest of the film. What’s not so famous to everyone, but by those who love the film, is just how much Stephen King hated the 1980 adaptation of his book. King states it’s the worst adaptation of all his work, and if you read the book it’s easy to see why.

The changes made in Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining from the novel has rippled through time and landed in the lap of Mike Flanagan. Mike Flanagan had the task of making a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s film or an adaptation of Stephen Kings novel, in the end he tried to do both and it just didn’t quite work.

Doctor Sleep tells the story of Danny Torrance, now almost 40 years since the events that took place at the Overlook Hotel, who must help a young girl, who can also ‘shine’, escape a gang who eat children with such powers.

The films starts out right where we left off, right after the events of The Shining and shows what life was like for Danny and his mother, and what life was like for other children who ‘shine’. It’s the first and second act of the movie that I liked the most, the part that felt like they came from the novel Doctor Sleep were engaging and refreshing, it felt like it stood on its own as something new. In these first two acts the film had a lot of references to The Shining and even ‘Kubrickisms’ so to speak. Some of the shots and transitions felt similar to the 1980s film and the score only helped enhance this feeling.

Similar to The Shining, this films horror comes in an atmospheric nature. There was never a moment of genuine horror and I never found it scary, much as I did with The Shining. The horror that does come, comes in the atmosphere the film creates, making you feel that true horror could be around any corner, and Mike Flanagan does a great job creating this ambiance. I also liked the story of Danny Torrance, who’s wonderfully played by Ewan McGregor, who yet again shows he never gives a bad performance. It’s his story that feels the most human, the most relatable and real. It’s a man who’s struggling with the demons of his past, metaphorically and literally. There’s a moment that shows us where the term ‘Doctor Sleep’ comes from and it’s these moments I wish the film highlighted more. The film, however, did begin to fall apart for me when it stopped becoming Doctor Sleep and started becoming ‘The Shining 2’.

As advertised, the Overlook Hotel does play a part in this film and it’s in these scenes I felt the story began to fall apart. The atmosphere slowly fades away and monster madness ensues. It feels like a different movie to the rest of the film and while the elements of the original film makes you nostalgic, I can’t help but see it as a mask hoping we don’t look under it to reveal the failed third act that it is.

There is a lot to like here, as said Ewan McGregor showcases a powerful performance as does Rebecca Ferguson. The film only leaves you wanting more and asking what could have been. I can’t help but feel disappointment in the ending, as I was enjoying the film so much and I was so engaged with Danny’s story, which gave us some great supporting characters that touch Danny’s life. In the end it feels like a film caught between two worlds, that of Stephen King and of Stanley Kubrick. The film is working at its strongest when it’s playing off King’s world and falls short when it plays off Kubrick’s. There is no doubt Kubrick is a genius director and only he can make the caliber of film that the original The Shining is, and Mike Flanagan does a grand job of playing with Kubrick styles, but when he dives fully into Kubrick’s work, he unfortunately drowns in it.

A film that will no doubt please the masses, but will leave King fans and Kubrick fans torn. The biggest issue for me is this film was heading in all the right directions to be a great Stephen King adaptation in the midst of the new Stephen King wave. In the end it was a great film until the final act and falls short of what it could have been, and just becomes another ‘okay’ horror film.

*** 3/5

Doctor Sleep is in cinemas now.

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