Doctor Sleep literally put me to sleep, and it most definitely wasn’t intentional.
Serving as a pseudo-sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, The Shining, as well as a follow-up to Stephen King’s book of the same name (the two are quite different yet oddly similar), Doctor Sleep follows a grown up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) decades after his father went mad and tried to murder him and his mother while they spent a wintery off-season holed up in a haunted hotel that literally had a mind of its own. Traumatized by this event, Danny’s life has turned out less than ideal, so when his unnatural power called “the shining” comes back into play in a big way with the arrival of a group of individuals known as the True Knot, led by a devious and equally as unnaturally powered Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), Danny has to embrace his powers and fight the evil coming his way as best he can, which might entail him facing off with a few ghostly demons from his past that he just can’t seem to shake.
Having re-watched The Shining a few days before seeing this sequel, I was cautiously excited to see the next chapter in this story, but unsure of what direction the filmmakers were going to take with it. Is it a sequel to Kubrick’s movie? A continuation of Stephen King’s original work? Both? Neither? It’s a tough position to be in when making a film like this, and unfortunately, by the time the credits rolled, I was still confused as to what this sequel was trying to be.
Directed by Mike Flanagan (who also adapted the excellent Stephen King’s Gerald’s Game for Netflix), Doctor Sleep is a film – and more importantly – a book that probably didn’t ever need to get made. Flanagan, for as solid as his direction is, can’t do much with a story that just never gets to the places it wants to be, and uses the general idea of The Shining to springboard into a sequel that, plainly put, feels like a cash grab albeit decades after the fact.
Ewan McGregor is as good as he can be in a role that starts off interestingly enough as he deals with the trauma of his childhood and his father’s decent into madness, but ends up going nowhere particularly worthwhile as the main plotline progresses. Sure, the third at should have fans of Kubrick’s original film giddy with excitement and nostalgia, but to me, the recasting of certain key roles from that film and the overall mediocrity of the storyline leading up to these scenes lessened that impact considerably, even if it was pretty fun to see initially.
Most of my other problems with this film stem from the fact that almost off the bat, the creepy subtlety of the film is lost when Rebecca Ferguson’s new villain, Rose the Hat, appears onscreen. With her ability to conjure supernatural powers and, along with her cohorts in the True Knot, basically act as energy vampires that suck the life-force of those they capture that have the ability to “shine”, Rose’s mere presence turns this film into a sort of superhero flick, complete with powers and special effects that do less in actually scaring audiences and more so comes across as a typical Hollywood film that needs a set amount of computer wizardry to be able to pass into theaters. It’s a sticking point that annoys me if only because the original movie was so good at building tension and setting a mood, that it barely had to do anything fancy to force chills up audience’s spines. This film seems to have no chill when it comes to subtle horror, and because of this, the potential of an It caliber film is lost almost immediately. Again, I don’t know if these issues are really something the filmmakers could have avoided given the fact that they were adapting an existing novel, but man, I wish some other route was taken during certain scenes that could have essentially been ripped out of the latest Marvel movie. Kudos goes out to a scant handful of scenes that use the computer effects right, but those are few and far between and by no means are an indication as to what the rest of the film is like.
While this movie has an air of competence surrounding it – mostly due to the filmmakers and actors involved – this is a film that is barely scary, partly entertaining, and mostly boring. Doctor Sleep isn’t nearly as good a film as the filmmakers were probably hoping for, and not only is it far too long and unevenly paced, but the overlap from the original movie makes this one feel more like a knockoff sequel that’s trying to be something it isn’t. Granted, the acting isn’t bad and there are some truly interesting visuals here and there, but overall, Doctor Sleep wasn’t what I was expecting or what I was hoping for.