By Mollie Campbell.
Movie: Doctor Sleep
Director: Mike Flanagan
Based on the Novel by: Stephen King
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran.
Doctor Sleep was always going to be a tough one to make, written by Stephen King, and following Stanley Kubrick’s classic envisioning of ‘The Shining’, which has become a horror classic. I didn’t love it, but I didn’t hate it. That probably doesn’t sound great to you, but Doctor Sleep had a very rich history to delve into, and every film as an art-form is essentially subjective, this is a great example of that idea because it really does depend on your preference and/or viewpoint. Nonetheless, another trip into the snowy Colorado Mountains is hardly a gruelling task for cinema lovers.
The movie begins with an iconic recap of a young Danny Torrance riding through the Overlook hotel on his red tricycle, an aspect from the original that seems the most prominent in people’s memory. Then we are given a brief yet telling glimpse into his childhood after the horrific events that unfolded, until we eventually land on the doorstep of an adult Danny. Plagued with the same struggles with alcoholism as his father, Dan does everything in his power to ignore the sinister and otherworldly abilities he has. Until eventually, he cleans up his act and finally becomes sober. Whilst this is happening he begins to communicate (telepathically) with a young girl called ‘Abra’ who has the same supernatural capabilities as him, or the same ‘shine’ as they call it.
At the same time, we see a group of inevitable bad guys, a travelling circle of vampire-esque immortals who need the essence of the ‘Shine’ or ‘Shining’ to survive. This aspect of the plot is a necessary threat; a traditional sense of ‘evil’ chasing the good guys, textbook storytelling, but you can’t deny its wackiness. Anyway, they end up on a hunt for Abra due to the power of her shine, and this is how she joins forces with Dan Torrance, an unlikely yet touching duo. This eventual meeting of our two movie heroes sets a trail for a very predictable final 30 minutes to the film. Instead of excitement, this kind of created a sense of restlessness or impatience as an audience member, because now we are just waiting for Dan’s inevitable return to the Overlook hotel.
Furthermore, it all starts to feel a bit surreal at this point, but not exactly in a good way, bearing in mind that the movie had now clocked up almost 120 minutes running time. It really starts to feel like the film was simply made for nostalgic effect, until Dan and Abra make that trip through the mountains. At this point, any criticisms I had started to dematerialise. It starts venturing back into its origin, the snowy grounds and the dominating shadow of this massive hotel, evil still lingering within its grimy walls, it is thrilling. For me, one of the most memorable yet comical moments that completely satisfied my inner film nerd, was watching Dan get served at the same hotel bar as his father, and the bar-tender is…you guessed it, an anti-ageing Jack Torrance himself, complete with the iconic and eerie red uniform, originally worn by ‘Lloyd’. Now obviously he isn’t portrayed by Jack Nicholson, and the use of something like Martin Scorsese’s ‘Youthification’ really would have turned this film into a cheese-fest, instead they used Henry Thomas, aka Elliot from ‘ET: The Extra-Terrestrial’. But this creepy role pays more homage to his recent character in the ‘Haunting of Hill House’ than ET, with him taking on the hefty role of Jack Torrance, a scene which seemed inevitable from the moment this movie was announced.
As the film reaches its end, there is only one immortal left to fight, Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), who they lure to the Overlook Hotel to get rid of once and for all. There are some brilliant parallels to the original film, with Ewan McGregor dressed in similar clothing as Jack Nicholson, walking up that wide iconic staircase, wielding an axe…seriously. It is comical but great, made for fans of the Shining, but also incorporating the same features as other movies from the Director, e.g. ‘Before I Wake’ and ‘Ouija: Origin of Evil’, this is definitely a step up in terms of horror. The Shining is one of my favourite films, and maintains its rightful place in the horror world, but I never saw it as scary, it seemed more like a psychological thriller with sinister qualities. Whereas Doctor Sleep has a bit of everything, the supernatural element is much more intense, with Dan becoming possessed just like his father, but instead of still looking human, his eyes cloud over as if he is in the middle of ‘The Exorcist’, and there is a lot more gore too.
Overall, the film was made for fans of The Shining, but the added horror aspects have certainly widened its audience. Although, at times it was confusing, I can only imagine how trippy it would be to watch if you’ve never seen ‘The Shining’, there is a very bitty nature to the film. At first the unstructured vibe seemed refreshing, but then it kind of turned into a bit of a chore to watch. And of course, I just couldn’t really help but compare it to Stanley Kubrick’s method in terms of film-making/story-telling. The narrative in The Shining contains a very clever build up, making the transitioning of Jack Nicholson’s character into something sinister, much more believable. This film becomes far-fetched and at times, silly. For example, Rose’s night-time flight in order to find Abra just screamed Twilight, which isn’t exactly the comparison you would want to draw from a ‘serious’ horror movie. Of course, you can’t really criticise, as this film was based on the follow-up novel by Stephen King, the Godfather of Horror. And if this was his vision for the world created in his mind, I can’t knock that. Especially as this sequel seems to stay true to its origin, something The Shining never did, in fact, after its release it was criticised by King for breaking away from the true essence of the book he had written.
In conclusion, whilst Doctor Sleep definitely has its faults, the film was thrilling, satisfying in terms of horror, and made well. The acting was great, specifically Ewan McGregor, and the 150 minute run time was worth it, even if it was just for an extremely overt use of nostalgia.