[Review] Doctor Sleep (2019)
On highways across America, a tribe of people called The True Knot travel in search of sustenance. They look harmless-mostly old, lots of polyesters, and married to their RVs. The True Knot are quasi-immortal, living off the “steam” that children with the “shining” produce when they are slowly tortured to death. Haunted by the inhabitants of the Overlook Hotel where he spent one horrific childhood year, Dan has been drifting for decades, desperate to shed his father’s legacy of despair, alcoholism, and violence.
Finally, he settles in a New Hampshire town, an AA community that sustains him, and a job at a nursing home where his remnant “shining” power provides the crucial final comfort to the dying. Aided by a prescient cat, he becomes “Doctor Sleep.” Then Dan meets the evanescent Abra Stone, and it is her spectacular gift, the brightest shining ever seen, that reignites Dan’s own demons and summons him to a battle for Abra’s soul and survival.
If I’m, to be honest here, I’d have to say that I was a bit more than worried when I first heard the “Doctor Sleep” novel by Stephen King was going to be made into a film. I was even more worried when I viewed the first trailer that appeared online for this movie, thinking generic it looked. But I also learned that Mike Flanagan would be the director (he also wrote and edited it) of this film, I had no doubts about his superb directing talents and therefore my faith was restored.
Flanagan is well known for such hits (to name a few) as Oculus, Gerald’s Game and my most beloved Netflix supernatural horror series, The Haunting of Hill House, which hit us just last year. So yeah, I just knew this film was in the best possible hands. Let me just stop right here and also plug his next much-anticipated release…The Turn of the Screw which will be an adaption from the 1898 novella of the same name, by Henry James.
Personally, I think Doctor Sleep is one of the best Stephen King adaptations ever made, and certainly, the best since 1994s “The Shawshank Redemption” and “The Green Mile” in 1999, both over 20 years ago. I’m not saying that Doctor Sleep is a Shining 2, but it is a near-perfect sequel to its 40-year-old predecessor. Doctor Sleep is actually a really tense, emotional, and informative story that reveals more of what “The Shine” is, more so than its predecessor at least.
The sequel goes in a totally new direction, while still having some major elements to The Shining here and there. It starts out a little all over the place and I wasn’t fully sure where it was headed but it’s not long before it definitely starts picking up in a whole new direction. Doctor Sleep isn’t totally in the same league as the horror masterpiece, The Shining, but that does not stop it from being a terrific, and stand on its own film and turns out to be another fine Stephen King adaptations.
Doctor Sleep begins in the year 1980. Sometime after escaping from the Overlook Hotel, Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mother Wendy (Alex Essoe) are living in Florida. Danny is still very much being tormented by the ghost of the horrific old woman he saw in the bathroom of the Overlook Hotel. Next, the ghost of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) appears beside Danny as he’s sitting on a park bench and ends up teaching him how to lock these disturbing ghosts in imaginary boxes within his mind.
Meanwhile, there’s a psychotic cult lurking around that’s known as the True Knot. The True Knot is led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who greedily feeds on the psychic essence of children having the ‘Shining’ abilities, such as the one Danny possesses. This is done to maintain their immortality.
Flash forward to 2011, where we see a now grown-up Danny (Ewan McGregor) who is still very much traumatized by the events that occurred in his childhood. Danny has sadly turned to drugs and alcohol to suppress his Shining curse. After spiraling downhill with no end in sight, he ends up moving to a small town in up north New Hampshire where he meets and befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis).
Billy introduces him to the AAA facilitator, who also happens to doctrine at a Hospice center, and offers Danny a job. There he uses his ‘Shine’ abilities, along with the institute’s live-in cat, comfort dying patients, who in turn give Danny the nickname of “Doctor Sleep”.
Flash forward again to 2018 where he begins communicating telepathically with a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), whose Shining abilities are way more powerful than his. The True Knot are becoming increasingly more starved and their supply of essence is running dangerously low. This is when they abduct young boy named Bradley Trevor (Jacob Tremblay), who also has a ‘Shining’ ability, torturing him to death to extract as much of his essence as they can.
This part might just be too much for some viewers so be warned…Bradley’s death is pretty darn brutal, if not down-right horrific, and I’m not joking one bit. What they do to that poor little guy, the time they took doing it, and his very realistic screams of pain and fear, the whole thing just about made me lose it. That’s all I’m going to say about that, you needed to be prepared.
Anyway, while the Knot is doing this, Abra senses it, and her distress signals alert not only Dan but Rose the Hat as well, who can also sense just how powerful Abra is. Abra also senses that Rose knows about her too, and realizes just how much danger she’s in. Abra then pays a visit to Dan, who tells her that she must avoid drawing attention to herself. Later that night, Rose projects herself into Abra’s mind, but she is shocked by the girl’s ability to trap her when she quickly enters Rose’s mind.
Wounded, Rose returns to her body and sends the True Knot to capture Abra. This is when everything falls apart and all hell breaks loose. The remainder of the film becomes one big cat and mouse chase as Dan and Abra become desperate to find and terminate Rose and her deadly pact of ‘steam vampires’ before they end up being eaten by the cat. Or, the Hat, in this case.
It’s really not hard to notice the love Flanagan has for the source material he pulled from, as he succeeded to seamlessly pick up directly where Kubrick left off. I’ve no doubt he loved the original film and book as much as I did. This showed to be a true labor of love right here, so no complaints at all from me. If I did have any complaints, they would most likely be over the young girl who played Abra delivering a small handful of her lines in an almost drone-like manner during some early shots, while another time she sounded as if she was quickly reading from a script.
It’s not that it was a deal-breaker, but it did take me out of the movie when it happened. The last thing I can think of would be the recasting of Jack and Wendy Torrence, replacing them with no-name actors. I realize that within those particular parts they had to do something like this, but if it were my choice, I’d have left them out completely as they felt a bit forced. Also because no one can live up to those parts. Ever.
Other details are for the production itself. The landscapes they used were beautifully crafted from the rural locations in New Hampshire and Colorado. The cinematography was absolutely excellent and the actors all gave convincing performances. Each one did a remarkable job in the roles and scripts they were given. I honestly cannot think of anyone else that could have filled any role better than the actors and actresses they used for these characters.
The music by the Newton Brothers made my heart thump right along with the heartbeat being used during some of the more creepy and dangerous scenes, and for once, the CGI and special effects were absolutely perfect and created a brilliant atmosphere overall. In summary, this is a truly worthy sequel to one of Stephen King’s classic novels. Doctor Sleep is not the perfect film of course, but I found it more engaging than most films I’ve seen this year, and it really did answer many questions that were leftover from the first trip to the Overlook back in 1980.
Title: Doctor Sleep
Release Date: November 8, 2019
Runtime: 2 hours, 31 minutes
Genre: Horror, Fantasy, Drama
Studio: Warner Bros. Pictures
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
MPAA Rated: R
Director(s): Mike Flanagan
Reviewed by: Grim Magazine
Our Rating: 3.8 /5
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