FILM REVIEW – DOCTOR SLEEP. With Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon. Written and directed by Mike Flanagan. Rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use. 151 minutes.
Even though Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining” is considered an iconic horror film, the author famously disliked it. This presented a unique challenge for writer-director Mike Flanagan in tackling King’s sequel novel, DOCTOR SLEEP. He manages to thread the needle in making it both an adaptation of the novel and a sequel to the earlier film.
At the start there are two stories. One story involves Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) who, as a boy, was terrorized by his father and other horrors at the Overlook Hotel, while struggling with his gift of the “shining,” which allowed him to tap into supernatural powers. It’s not been an easy life. Like his father, he has been self-medicating with booze, but thanks to a new friend (Cliff Curtis), joins AA and sobers up.
Meanwhile Abra (Kyliegh Curran), also has the shining, and becomes aware of a group led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who torture and kill their young victims since the “steam” they release in their fear and suffering is their sustenance. Eventually Danny and Abra will meet up and join forces in a battle with Rose and her gang. This leads to a climactic battle at – wait for it – the abandoned Overlook Hotel.
Although overlong, the film has a lot going for it. McGregor provides a nuanced turn as Danny, a man with great powers who has been haunted by his past and tries to reconcile the two. Curran, in her first major role, is a definite plus as the tween Abra, handling not only the horror elements but some of the comical elements as well, including a scene where she’s supposed to be a conduit for Danny. Ferguson brings out Rose’s sexiness and lust for control, given that her success means extended life spans for her and her followers.
As usual with King, the proceedings are overwrought. Flanagan might have followed Kubrick in reining in or ignoring the author’s excesses, but instead chooses to focus on recreating characters, sets, and situations from the 1980 movie. Kudos for casting substitutes for Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and the late Scatman Crothers, all of whom evoke the originals without turning into parody. Yet the payoff is over-the-top and may not work for everyone.
In the concluding moments, the film offers an evocative conclusion that echoes its early scenes and provides a neat conclusion. However, it ends with a final moment that seems to contradict what we’ve just seen. Viewers can come up with their own interpretations for it, but it comes across more like a setup for yet another sequel.
The lesson of “Doctor Sleep” is that making a movie longer doesn’t necessarily make it better, and that offering up an ambiguous ending doesn’t make it deep. This is a movie that will attract interest of fans of the novels or the earlier movie but falls short of its epic intentions.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His latest novel is Father of the Bride of Frankenstein. He is the 2018 recipient of the Skylark Award given by the New England Science Fiction Association. He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.