Saturday, November 16, 2019

Movie Reviews: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
directed by Mike Flanagan
Doctor Sleep is a thriller film based on the Stephen King novel of the same name, previously reviewed here. King's novel is a sequel to his previous novel The Shining

Doctor Sleep is also a thriller film that is a sequel to the Stanley Kubrick movie , The Shining, which was based on King's novel. 

King was not a fan of Kubrick's adaptation, and wasn't shy about stating so to any and all.

King thought that Kubrick made some bad mistakes with King's story, perhaps deliberately. It could be why King spent the time and resources to produce his own television version of The Shining. There are nonetheless some iconic and truly frightening scares in Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining, some of which were taken directly from King's novel, and some of which were not. Got all that? Good.

Flanagan walked a fine line to adapt King's Doctor Sleep novel while exploring themes from The Shining novel that King thought Kubrick missed. Additionally Flanagan still referenced Kubrick's work. Occasionally the strain of juggling different demands and conflicting sources shows but two performances are so good, that people might well (ahem) overlook inconsistencies or problems. 

In The Shining, as a boy the psychically gifted Danny Torrance barely escaped being murdered by his father. His father Jack was possessed by one or more spirits inhabiting the Overlook Hotel. The Overlook was eager to kill Danny and take his power. Danny and his mother Wendy survived; Jack Torrance did not. 

Even before encounters with the supernatural Jack Torrance was a troubled man who struggled with alcoholism, self-hate, and violence. Thirty years later, Dan (Ewan McGregor) has unfortunately inherited his father's alcoholism and choleric nature. 

Hitting rock bottom after a particularly vicious bar fight and a resulting selfish act of greed and lust, Dan decides to turn a new leaf in life.  He settles in a small East Coast town and starts a halting friendship with Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), a fellow alcoholic who can see Dan's trauma. 

Billy gets Dan one job and Dan's ebbing but still powerful "shining" helps him to find another. Billy becomes Dan's AA sponsor. Life is looking up. Over the years, as Dan's alcoholism and trauma recedes, his shining becomes stronger, though it will never be what it was when he was a child. His shining helps him in his new job.

Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) is a teen girl with the shining. She lives in a different East Coast city. Since she was young she has maintained telepathic communication with Dan. She found him easily. Just about everything comes easily to Abra because she has raw power which dwarfs Dan's and just about anyone else's combined. If most people who have the shining are like 200 watt light bulbs, Abra is akin to a hydrogen bomb. 

Knowing that such things bother her parents ( Zackary Momoh, Jocelin Donahoe), Abra usually doesn't openly display her powers in front of them. There's not much in the world which fazes Abra. She has the easy confidence of youth. But when she becomes aware that the story's villains are murdering children with the shining, she reaches out to Dan for help.  

The group known as the True Knot are something of a cross between ghouls and vampires. Once human psychics , they have all massively extended their lives by devouring the life force of other human psychics. 

They prefer to feed on the life force or "steam" of children with the shining as such children tend to have purer steam and stronger powers. One of the True Knot members has been around since the days of the Roman Empire.

The True Knot's leader is one Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). She is so called because of her ubiquitous top hat. With the exception of the showdowns with Curran's character Ferguson steals every scene. Her Rose is a stylish swivel hipped sensually languid woman who looks like she knows what goes where and why, IF you know what I mean. She is so good at this that the viewer can forget that she's also mean as a rattlesnake and as relentless as a great white shark. 

When, from afar Abra swats aside Rose's powerful psychic attack as easily as you or I might close a door, Rose is frightened, impressed, and that much more determined to find and kill Abra. Abra's life force could sustain the True Knot for centuries. The True Knot is having more trouble finding children with the shining.

This film is rated R. There is one particularly horrific but fleeting scene of violence.

The film possibly could have received an R rating just for scenes of Rose the Hat walking or stretching; Ferguson radiates eroticism yet remains fully clothed throughout the film. 

Doctor Sleep is not so much a horror movie as it is a thriller/action film with supernatural elements. It doesn't have the coldness, creepiness, and isolation that inhabited Kubrick's adaptation of The Shining. So if you're expecting something to scare the bejeezus out of you this isn't that film. Still, the ease with which Rose and her friends isolate, manipulate and ultimately kill children may make parents more than a little queasy.

Ferguson looked exactly as I thought Rose the Hat would. Curran's confidence and determination also were key elements of Abra Stone's book personality. The True Knot members don't look like monsters; they look like groupies/roadies for The Grateful Dead or Allman Brothers. A few even appear to be grandfatherly. But many of the world's worst monsters never look evil. The film ran a little long. It lampshaded an important theme from the book but unless you read the book you won't miss it. Overall this was a good, but not great film.

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