Cinema Dispatch: Doctor Sleep

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Doctor Sleep and all the images you see in this review are owned by Warner Bros Pictures

Directed by Mike Flanagan

Now that we’re a good few years into the Stephen King revival that was kicked off by IT (actually Stranger Things if we’re being honest) it was about time we start calling back to OTHER Stephen King adaptations, and not just that brief shot of the original Pennywise in IT or the numerous random callbacks in The Dark Tower.  This is a sequel not only to Stephen King’s original Shining novel, but is the sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation, so describing the making of this movie as Quixotic is not that much of a stretch.  Then again, there’s no reason not to swing for the fences if you’ve got the chance, and the director has proven time and time again with films like Gerald’s Game and Ouija: Origin of Evil that he’s capable of making very good horror films, so perhaps the untouchable triumph that was The Shining is not so out of reach after all!  Is this a worthy sequel to the original film and a great movie in its own right?  Let’s find out!!

Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) has had a rough time of it since he and his mother managed to escape from the Overlook Hotel where his dad tried to murder the two of them before dying in the snow.  It seems that he took after his father in the second worst way possible as he may not be an axe murderer, but he is an alcoholic who’s using his addiction to avoid dealing with his own problems as well as the powers that seem to have done nothing but cause him trouble as the ghosts from the Overlook Hotel try to haunt him to this day.  He manages to find a bit of stability though in the town of True Knot where he meets a friend named Billy (Cliff Curtis), manages to give up the booze, and even gets a job as an orderly in a hospice care facility where he uses his power to sooth those who are about to die with those gifts that have given him nothing but heartache for the past thirty years.  He also seems to have made a connection with another psychic user as they communicate with each other anonymously, but circumstances are about to change that will force them to finally meet one another.  It turns out that there is a cult of other psychic users who have found out that eating the souls of psychically powerful people will give them everlasting life and so they roam the country looking for people to eat (mostly children as they are the most potent) and are ostensibly led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who’s powers are among the strongest out there.  Our mysterious pen pal to Dan whose a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) catches psychic wind of these monsters as they feast upon a child, and Rose the Hat catches a glimpse of her as well, so now that both parties know of the other’s existence there will surely be some serious X-Men like conflict coming soon and Abra could use all the help she can get to bring these fiends to justice.  Will Dan be willing to help his friend Abra with her little problem of cannibal psychics trying to hunt her down?  Who exactly are these murderous psychics, and why is one of them wearing such a distinctive hat?  Will they find an excuse for going back to the Outlook Hotel so they can sell this movie on Shining nostalgia?  Well of course they will, but will it be a GOOD excuse!?

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“Look, I know it’s haunted as well as the birthplace of most of my trauma, but I’ve got a forty percent discount from Hotels.com and it’s the ONLY place in the area it applies to.”

It’s been a good few weeks for eighties nostalgia as this movie is almost as good a sequel to The Shining as Dark Fate was to Terminator.  Apparently being unafraid to try new things and not being blinded by nostalgia are GOOD things when making a sequel several decades later!  Who knew!?  Certainly not the makers of Terminator Genisys, but if I mention that movie any more I’ll have to start asking them to pay me for all the publicity.  Besides, why should we waste our breath talking about BAD MOVIES when this VERY GOOD MOVIE could use the attention?  The Shining is one of my favorite films of all time (certainly one of my favorite horror movies), and while this movie isn’t up to that level of excellence, it’s really not trying to be as it carves out a niche all its own and tells a really interesting story from a brand new perspective!

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Okay maybe not so literally, but you get my point!

Like Terminator: Dark Fate, the film’s strength relies on what it does DIFFERENTLY as opposed to how much it reminds you of the original, so what they did here was expand the universe beyond the confines of the one hotel; almost like less obvious version of the Stephen King callbacks in The Dark Tower.  Movies tend to be rather tightly contained with little attention paid to the world or events outside of the singular narrative, especially in a ghost story where you WANT it to feel like the whole world is closing in on you.  This is the trap that a lot of horror movie sequels fall into where they want to recapture the magic of the original and therefore don’t expand the universe or do anything all that new with the ideas imbedded into the narrative.  The incident at the Overlook hotel was absolutely traumatic and terrifying for Danny, but is that he ONLY way that his powers and these apparitions can manifest?  Are they truly the greatest threat out there or could there be more danger facing the world outside the confines of a dusty old hotel?  It’s fascinating to see Danny’s struggle in the Overlook Hotel as well as his subsequent struggles as an adult are not the whole embodiment of these powers, and we get can see what they can mean to someone in a much more loving, stable, and at least somewhat accepting environment in the form of Abra who knows about her powers but doesn’t associate them with horror and misfortune; rather with empowerment.  To see Danny from her perspective as just a dude with a lot of problems and a sad backstory, makes the events of the Overlook Hotel feel small, but in a good way; not inconsequential, but not everything there is to see in the universe that the story takes place in.

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“A hedge maze?  Ugh… how disgustingly retro.”

The new elements they add to this story regarding other psychic users and the monsters that feed off of them are well executed at least for the purposes of this movie, and there’s a creative verve to all of it that makes it feel comparable to Kubrick in terms of visual flair and realizing certain ideas to film.  Not all of it is PERFECT as some of it did remind of Dreamcatcher in terms of trying to literally depict metaphysical concepts on screen, but it’s certainly a GOOD version of that all things considered.  The bad guys in this movie are sufficiently terrifying with the movie pulling no punches on just how far they’re willing to go, and Rose the Hat being particularly exception with her gifts makes them all the more dangerous.  However, what’s interesting about them is that they aren’t dangerous because they’re ultra-competent or all powerful; even with their powers.  When you see them, they’re cool, collected, ravenous, and scary, but when you peel back the thinnest of layers, they’re more like feral animals than anything else.  They’re scared, short sighted, lacking in any thought process beyond self-preservation, and they seem to know it from the way that they behave.  They HAVE to lean as hard as they do into self-identifying as “bad guys” because anything else than full commitment would surely break their will to continue being such monstrous creatures that, in case it wasn’t clear yet, MURDER CHILDREN TO SUCK OUT THEIR SOULS!  In that sense, they’re perhaps one of the more faithful adaptations of the monstrous duality of vampires that we’ve seen in quite some time; showing us their community, their smug sense of superiority, and their deliberate fashion choices, while also showing us the creatures lurking beneath the surface.

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IT’S SUCH A NICE HAT, THOUGH!!

And all of that is before we even get into the Shining stuff which is what the whole movie is basically building up to!  I really enjoyed the callbacks and references because I’m such a longtime fan of the movie (still haven’t read the book), and it’s kind of amusing to me that King had to have signed off on this knowing that it was going to reference the Kubrick film a heck of a lot more than his original text or even his more faithful adaptation from 1997.  If you remember that Shining sequence in Ready Player One, it’s basically like that only… well BETTER, and that’s not even saying the Ready Player One sequence was bad.  Quite the opposite as it was definitely the highlight of that movie for me!  It’s similar in that they both rely a lot on your nostalgia and familiarity with the locations, the set pieces, and the music especially to lend gravitas to the final act.  It’s better than Ready Player One though because that’s not ALL there is to do there and this movie has its own spin on the original’s material that works to establish itself as its own thing even when wearing the original film’s influences so heavily on its sleeve.  There’s a sequence with Danny at the bar that frankly rivals the Kubrick film in terms of tension, drama, and pure craftsmanship, and while there are few hokey moments here and there (the ghosts themselves are kinda goofy and… literally presented if that makes sense) it’s definitely as valid a reason to watch this movie as the solid story they were telling up to that point.

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“‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’?  I don’t know, seems a bit repetitive to me.”

The movie has one big problem though and it’s the same problem that a lot of book adaptations have.  There are WAY too many specific and fleshed out plot points that simply don’t go anywhere and end up obscuring the narrative arc of the movie.  Now in a book you absolutely want these little moments and it’s what make King’s writing so memorable in the first place, but there’s just so much going on and so much new information that we need to get through that spending even one minute on how he got the job as an orderly or why there’s a tiny cardboard town in the middle of the town’s park just end up cluttering things and makes the first act feel rather janky in terms of pacing.  This also means that certain elements get truncated and don’t get as much time as they probably deserve such as the reason the movie is even CALLED Doctor Sleep which is that Danny’s powers allow him to calm people who are about to die at his post as an orderly at a hospice care facility.  It helps inform the character to be sure, but the movie also doesn’t really come back around to once the plot gets going in the second act.

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“How’s your character arc going, bro?”     “Oh you know, a bit of alcoholism here, some introspection there.”

With all the Stephen King adaptations we’ve been getting so far, some have been really great and even the bad ones like The Dark Tower I managed to enjoy quite a bit (yes I’m that guy).  Despite the film’s flaws that stem from its roots as a book adaptation, I think this might be one of the better ones that have come out.  Maybe not as good as the first IT movie which made the smart move of ONLY using the good stuff in that book to adapt, but it’s right up there as far as King adaptations go and I’d put it right alongside the original Shining film as a worthy successor to that film.  I’d definitely recommend seeing this in theaters, especially if you have a fondness for the Kubrick film as it’s such an interesting take on that world and the way it expands the source material while also feeling just big enough that you want to see some of the more impressive moments on the big screen.  For everyone else though it’s a bit of a harder sell.  You’ve got to remember, as FANTASTIC as that film is it’s over thirty years old now and there’s a non-insignificant portion of the audience who has never seen it before, so perhaps the low box office returns is reflective of that, but if you have seen the Shining or plan to see it in the near future than I absolutely recommend seeing this as well.  It’s not often that we get sequels this long after the original film that turn out all that well, and we’ve gotten two in the last few weeks.  Both of them ALSO seem to have flopped which is not a great sign for getting MORE great films like this, so go out there and enjoy them while you still can!

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