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Doctor Sleep (A Movie Review)

Updated: Feb 18, 2020

Doctor Sleep


Starring Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Jocelin Donahue, Alex Essoe, Zackary Momoh, Jacob Tremblay, Henry Thomas, Carel Struycken, Robert Longstreet, Catherine Parker, Met Clark, Selena Anduze, Sadie Heim, KK Heim and Danny Lloyd.

Screenplay by Mike Flanagan.

Directed by Mike Flanagan.

Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures. 152 minutes. Rated R.

While Stephen King’s novels have a universe of characters who often appear in stories other than their own, it is rare that he continues on a story once a novel is done. Oh sure, there are books which were always planned to be a series – like the Dark Tower and Mr. Mercedes books. And early on in his career, he did write the short story “Jerusalem’s Lot” which was a prequel to his novel ‘Salem’s Lot.

However, while the film versions of his stories have often seen sequels (mostly without King’s participation), he never did a novel that went back to look specifically at whatever happened to characters from one of his earlier works. Which was why is was such a big deal in 2012 when King decided to write a book about Danny Torrance – the clairvoyant little boy in his classic ghost story The Shining – grown up to be a man.

The novel, which came out in 2013 called Doctor Sleep, turned out to be a middling adventure for King, certainly not as memorable as the novel which inspired it, but it had some good, scary parts. It also could only do so much with the Overlook Hotel, as the structure was burned down at the end of The Shining. Therefore, while the book took place at the site of the Overlook, by that point it was mostly a vacant lot with a bit of burnt down ruins still around.

Beyond being a classic novel, The Shining became a classic film when Stanley Kubrick put his own particular artistic vision on the tale – which has become beloved by cinephiles. However, one person who was always rather vocal about his disappointment in Kubrick’s Shining was King himself, who felt that Kubrick strayed way too far from the novel, which is not an invalid complaint. However, Kubrick’s broody and arty look at the story has made the film a cult favorite and spawned some iconic film moments; the elevator which spurted a river of blood, the twin ghost girls coaxing the scared little boy to “Come and play with us, Danny,” and many more.

Which put Doctor Sleep writer/director Mike Flanagan in a potentially awkward position. Since this was a film version of King’s novel, he had to have the writer on board. However, as a filmmaker, he wanted to pay tribute to Kubrick’s vision – a vision which King was not really on board with. Luckily, King magnanimously signed off on it and agreed with the idea that the sequel become a celebration of Kubrick’s take on The Shining, as well as King’s.

And you know what? It makes the story of Doctor Sleep even better, if for no other reason than the fact that Kubrick did not burn down the Overlook in his version of the story, so the filmmakers are able to revisit a wonderfully stylized update of the original setting – left to mold and rot for decades, but still standing. This makes the climax of the film more interesting and fun than the climax of the novel.

Also, like the Doctor Sleep novel, the returns to the world of The Shining are more interesting than the actual main story, about a gypsy band of energy vampires who search the US for children who have psychic powers and violently kill them, consuming their powers and their life forces in the form of steam which comes from their mouths and bodies as they die.

Somehow, over the years, they had always missed Danny Torrance.

Danny (played by Ewan McGregor) has now grown to a lost man of about 40. After the events at the Overlook, he moved to Florida with his mother – and hotel cook Dick Halloran. He has been self-medicating (alcohol and drugs) for years, trying to keep his ghosts (figurative and literal) at bay. His mother is long dead, Dick is out of his life, and he is just roaming from town to town, looking for money and his next fix.

He gets his life together when he ends up in a small town in New England. He makes a good friend, goes to AA and takes a job as an orderly at a local hospice, where he finds that his psychic abilities have the effect of making it easier for the dying to deal with the inevitability of death.

While there he makes contact with a young girl who shares his powers, in fact her abilities are much stronger than Danny’s, and his were off the charts. Then, when the energy vampires discover her, Danny must protect her from the coming evil, leading to a showdown at the battered and boarded – but still eerily similar – Overlook.

While Doctor Sleep is not a perfect film, it’s a pretty damned good one. And it is stunning in some of the visual cues that it takes from Kubrick’s film. Sets, camera angles, music, tracking shots; all of them lovingly mimic the original film for The Shining’s fanatical base. (And few films have more of a fanatical base than The Shining, just check out the documentary Room 237.

There are lots of fun Easter eggs for Shining fans, like the fact that Abra’s house number is 1980 (the year The Shining movie was released) and the father of one of the victims was played by Danny Lloyd, the child actor who played Danny in the original film.

Doctor Sleep is also significantly gorier than The Shining in some sections, so keep that in mind if you are bringing kids – particularly since some of the victims are children.

All in all, Doctor Sleep is another step in King’s theatrical renaissance, and one of the rare occasions that the film adaptation is as good or maybe even better than the novel it is based upon.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2019 All rights reserved. Posted: November 6, 2019.

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