Doctor Sleep – Movie review
Doctor Sleep is based on Stephen King’s 2013 novel of the same name, which is the sequel to his popular 1977 novel The Shining. It is directed and screenwritten by horror specialist Mike Flanagan who did Gerald’s Game (2017), Ouija: Origin of Evil (2016) and Oculus (2013) which I really liked, just to name a few.
While the film does follow the main plot of the book, it is actually more of a direct sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of The Shining. If you’re fan, you would know that Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining has a few significant differences compared of its source material, which was why King hated it. In this sequel film, it’s room 237, not 217. If you know, you know.
But if you’ve never seen The Shining before, not even the 1997 TV mini-series, you might have hard time following certain things in Doctor Sleep so be sure to watch The Shining first.
Anyway, the story follows Danny Torrance, the boy with the psychic abilities from the first film, who’s all grownup now but has succumb to his childhood trauma after what happened at the Overlook Hotel when he was a kid. He now has drinking and rage problems just like his late dad.
He is trying to move on from his past and live a humble life. He makes friends with a little girl named Abra Stone who has similar abilities as he does but much, much more powerful than he was.
There’s a group of murderous people called True Knot who are “special” like Danny and Abra, and they hunt and kill little special kids to consume their “steam” in order to stay immortal. “Steam” is basically like a psychic essence produced when someone with abilities is in fear, pain or dies. So Danny, who’s alone and not that powerful with his abilities anymore, must decide whether or not he can help Abra from being hunted.
And that’s the plot. I have very mixed feelings about it. It is a very different kind of film compared to Kubrick’s The Shining. It’s not as terrifying, ambiguous or thought-provoking. It’s more like a formulaic thriller that’s fun to watch if you’re a hardcore fan of the The Shining and you love fanservicing or homage, whatever you prefer to call it.
To me, it feels like watching an X-Men spinoff with a group of soul-eating vampires as the villains. Like in Logan (2017), the older, weaker, alcoholic Wolverine meets another mutant little girl that’s very much like him and he decides to help her in his own journey for redemption.
So the story here is very familiar but from what I can tell from reading off Wikipedia, it’s actually quite faithful to the novel’s plot while altering a bit here and there to add in some elements from The Shining that’s missing in Kubrick’s adaptation. Nonetheless, as someone who was terrified by The Shining when I was a kid, and now a pop culture nerd, I still find Doctor Sleep enjoyable enough.
No, it doesn’t build tension or creepy vibes as well as the first film and therefore, it’s not really scary. To be fair, it doesn’t really try to be. There are some sudden loud sounds but I don’t recall any actual jumpscares. Though there is one sequence that’s extremely sadistic and quite disturbing to watch. There is a good reason why the film should not be as scary anyway and it’s because the main characters themselves are not that afraid of ghosts and are capable of dealing with them with their powers.
I had fun just watching Danny trying very hard to live a peaceful life and helping dying people at the hospital. And Abra just being super cool using her powers in this world where ghosts and a bunch of bad immortals exist.
The performances are good. Kyliegh Curran plays the sweet and intelligent Abra well. She has one standout scene in the final third. I shall not spoil it. I thought Ewan McGregor does very well too as the traumatised nice guy Danny who’s just trying to live his life peacefully and quit drinking. But I thought he could’ve done better when he’s in rage mode. I was never convinced that he’s ever going to snap into violence like his infamous dad Jack Torrance did.
The two protagonists, Danny and Abra, are very well developed with the purpose of conveying the importance of communication and truthful connection with others. The antagonists, on the other hand, are pretty much just bad guys with vague backstory. Well at least their motives are clear, I guess.
The film is two hours and a half but I never felt like it’s too long. If anything, I felt the pacing of the final act is rushed. The final act feels like a superhero fight *cough* X-Men: Apocalypse (2016) *cough* and frankly, I felt that it’s a little underwhelming and lack of thrill for its genre.
Anyway, in overall, yeah, Doctor Sleep is a little disappointing but still enjoyable enough if you’re a Shinning fan. Just don’t expect it to be mind-blowing or super scary.
Based on: Stephen King’s 1977 novel “The Shining” and 2013 novel “Doctor Sleep”
Genre: Psychological horror thriller
Running Time: 152 minutes
Director-writer: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
Malaysia Release Date: 7 November 2019
Local Distributor: Warner Bros. Pictures Malaysia
Production: Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment