“Doctor Sleep” is based on horror master Stephen King’s 2013 novel that serves as the sequel to King’s literary masterpiece “The Shinning”. Ewan McGregor’s brilliant performance is the only thing that makes the film bearable to watch. It takes its sweet and sluggish time with a two hour and thirty minute run time. It’s a reminder that not all of King’s books works as an adaptation and how the challenge of wrestling his books into a satisfying movie can be, redrum (murder). At best “Doctor Sleep” would make a great “Scooby Doo” episode.
Mike Flanagan is one of the best horror filmmakers of this generation. Writing, directing and editing all of his films, Flanagan has been on a hot streak lately. Although his first studio film “Occulus” is still his best film, a modern masterpiece and my favorite of his films. After releasing his latest film “Gerald’s Game” in 2017 and serving as creator, writer and director of the 11 episode first season of “House On Haunted Hill” for Netflix. Flanagan has returned to the big screen with “Doctor Sleep”, based on horror master Stephen King’s 2013 novel of the same name. King’s “Doctor Sleep” is the sequel to King’s literary masterpiece “The Shinning”.
“Doctor Sleep” focuses on Danny Torrance, the son of Jack and Wendy Torrance (Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall). Danny is at the heart of both “The Shining” and “Doctor Sleep”. Flanagan instantly jumps on the nostalgia bandwagon as he opens the film with imagery from Stanley Kubrick’s classic film.
“Doctor Sleep” is set mainly in the present day, as Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor, doing brilliant work) lives as an alcoholic drifter who remains haunted by the horrific trauma he and his mother suffered all those years ago at the Overlook Hotel. Danny still has what he calls as “the shine”, but he tries to drown out those extrasensory gifts by drinking himself to unconscious nearly every night.
Danny finds himself in the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire, where a kind local named Billy Freeman (another wonderful Cliff Curtis performance) helps Danny get a place to stay and takes him to A.A. meetings, where Danny meets a doctor (“Gerald’s Game” star Bruce Greenwood) who gets Danny a job at a hospice. Danny’s shining powers are put to use, as he can sense when someone is about to die and can give that individual a sense of peace and reassurance that there’s something out there for the human soul beyond death. Hence, the title “Doctor Sleep”.
While Danny works out his issues in Small Town USA, a group dressed like a “Fleetwood MAC” cover band, called the True Knot are roaming the country and feeding off the “steam”, which is essentially the souls of children who have been gifted with the ability to shine. The true knot’s try to find the more gifted ones as the stronger the shine, the more power the members of the True Knot gain.
Rebecca Ferguson (“Mission Impossible: Fallout”, “The Greatest Showman”) stars as Rose the Hat, the leader of the True Knots who won’t go anywhere without her badass black top hat. Meanwhile, Danny is actually enjoying a telepathic, uncle-niece type relationship with an adolescent girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who’s living somewhere in suburbia who hides her special abilities. While Abra has shining skills, they are so powerful and special, that she appears on the True Knot’s radar and they commence hunting her down so they can feed off her essence.
Flanagan takes the story to Colorado for the films big showdown between Danny and Rose at the fabled Overlook Hotel. This is where Flanagan tries to re-create the oppressive mood of Kubrick’s classic, but it only becomes a problem, as scenes of nostalgia including the big climax, only stands as reminders that we should be at home watching the far superior original film. Flanagan doesn’t hold a candle to Kubrick and makes his work look tame and small in comparison.
No more than ten minutes into the film, I immediately fell out of the movie, as the film opens in 1980 right after the incidents of Kubrick’s “The Shinning”. I fell right out of it because Flanagan used a more traditional approach by recasting the key roles of Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson, with new actors who look nothing like the original actors. Playing Wendy is Alex Essoe, who is done up to try and look like Shelley Duvall. While her voice sounds like Duvall, she looks nothing like her. Fairing even worse is “E.T.” actor Henry Thomas who takes the place of Jack Nicholson, but just comes across like a Las Vegas impersonator.
With the increasingly popular technology of de-aging and digitally replicating an original actors face onto the hired actors. Why Flanagan chose not to go in that direction is beyond me. The technology is there just look at the recent “Terminator” film that accomplished it successfully.
Kudos to production designer Maher Ahmad, whose production design is a triumph for the faithful recreation of a legendary haunting set. “Doctor Sleep” is a perfect title for this snoozer of a film. The movie is too long, very dull and mostly moves at a sleepwalking pace.
Flanagan tries to please two masters Stephen King and Stanley Kubrick, but doesn’t know which one to honor more or if he should go his own way? After directing “Gerald’s Game” and “House On Haunted Hill” series for Netflix. “Doctor Sleep” still feels like he is directing for the streaming service as this feels every bit a Netflix production as his other projects.
Flanagan is one of the most compassionate horror storytellers, as in the way his characters deal with empathy, addiction, and trauma. “Doctor Sleep” takes its sweet and sluggish time with a two hour and thirty minute run time. “Doctor Sleep” is a reminder that not all of King’s books works as an adaptation and how the challenge of wrestling his books into a satisfying movie can be, redrum. At best “Doctor Sleep” would make a great “Scooby Doo” episode.
GRADE: ★☆☆☆☆ (1 out of 5)