It has been the year of Stephen King! We have had so many of his stories turned into films and television shows in just 2019 alone. I thought some were really good: In the Tall Grass, Pet Sematary and some were… meh: It: Chapter 2, Castle Rock. Regardless, it’s a good time to be King (see what I did there?) and we are not even close to being finished with the Stephen King adaptations – at least, not any time in the foreseeable future.
Which brings us to the most recent project adapted to film from the mind of Stephen King: Doctor Sleep.
Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining and tells the story of an adult Dan Torrance who meets a young girl with similar powers and must protect her from a sinister cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
Now, a couple of things before we begin the review:
Does the basic plot outline sound familiar?
It should, because you have seen it done in Logan, Leon: The Professional, Safe, Commando, Last Action Hero, Terminator 2 (a lot of Arnold on this list) Mercury Rising… I could do this all day.
The point is, it seems like kind of a bland plot for a sequel to one of the most influential horror novels (and films) of all time.
The trailer (Above) did not inspire confidence, either. It’s full of callbacks to The Shining, so much so that I was not totally sure if this film was going to have its own voice, or if it was just going to play like a Greatest Hits album of things that The Shining did before. It also includes lines like: I haven’t felt power like that in so long! Which made me laugh out loud in the theater when I first saw it.
Not Read the Book
Now, there may have been some King-isms in the film that I missed, as I have not read the novel. That said, I can only review the film on the film’s merits (or lack thereof) and that is how I am analyzing in my final thoughts on the film.
To be fair, the film did have a lot going for it:
This was written and directed by Mike Flanagan, the man who brought us great horror projects like, Hush, The Haunting of Hill House, Oculus and even another Stephen King adaptation in Gerald’s Game (which I really enjoyed!)
Ewan McGregor – enough said. Honestly, Mr. McGregor is the reason I am excited about the upcoming Birds of Prey film (even though I know better than to get my hopes up too high, but Ewan McGregor is playing the villain Black Mask, which is objectively cool and a great casting choice)
Rebecca Ferguson – She’s had a lot of big roles, including being an important part of the new Mission Impossible films and things like Life and The Greatest Showman. Plus, I heard early reviews praising her performance, so I was excited to see what she did with the role of the main antagonist.
Strong Early Reactions
I don’t base my reviews on anything but my own experience and take on a film, but I will admit that when a film is critically praised and gets strong positive early buzz, I do pay attention.
So, with the good and bad laid out, I want to get into my review and what I thought of the final product:
Doctor Sleep – Review
We start our story right after the end of The Shining. Danny and his mother have moved to Florida and have vowed to stay away from snow forever, but Danny is still seeing spirits.
This is keeping him up all night, until Dick Hallorann (the same man who was killed in the Overlook Hotel at the end of The Shining) stops by as a ghostly apparition and shows Danny how to trap the specters and control his powers.
We then cut to an adult Danny (or Dan, as he is called now) who is struggling with addiction and is drifting from town to town. He is taken in by a nice man (Cliff Curtis – one of many fun cameos in the film) and taken to an AA meeting where he meets Dr. John (played by Bruce Greenwood – another fun cameo) who gives him a job in a nursing home.
In the old folks home, Dan helps people pass away by talking to them and reassuring them that dying is just going to a long, restful sleep. This is where he gets the nickname “Dr. Sleep” and Dan finds that helping the patients feels good and allows him to start to clean up his own life.
Another cut and we have now jumped forward another 8 years. Dan has continued to be Doctor Sleep and is still going to AA when he is found by a young girl named Abra who also has The Shining. He tells her to hide her power and not to draw attention to herself.
So, of course, she doesn’t listen and catches the attention of a Cult called The True Knot who feed on children with The Shining to extend their own lives and increase their power. They are led by a woman who calls herself Rose the Hat and are determined to catch Abra and feed off of her immense power.
Reluctantly, Dan agrees to help Abra and the two face off against the evil True Knot Cult.
So, that’s the basic plot, now let’s get into what worked, what needs work and what I ultimately thought of the film!
The Acting – As I said, Ewan McGregor is a fantastic actor and he carries the film. You can see the pain in his eyes, his gait, and his overall demeanor in every scene and he is a great representation of a haunted man who never really escaped the Overlook Hotel.
Not just him, but Rebecca Ferguson is also really good as Rose the Hat, though I don’t feel like she was given a lot to do. Regardless, she is having a lot of fun being evil and she has a great screen presence.
*Side note for you book-readers, why is she called Rose the Hat? What does her Hat do? There are hints in the film that it might be where she gets her power from or that it contains something, but that never comes back and I was left with the impression that it is a much larger plot point that the movie skipped over.
As I mentioned before, there are also a lot of fun cameos in the film, like Jacob Tremblay who plays a young baseball player who The Knot targets or Molly C. Quinn who plays Mrs. Grady.
The Direction – Mike Flanagan has already proved that he is adept at directing horror and at adapting Stephen King material, and here he gets to do a lot of cool visual storytelling and gets to recreate some scenes and moments from The Shining which was nice to see.
The Horror – As I have said before, I hate jump-scares, as I think it is a cheap and lazy way to get a reaction from your audience. Here, however, the horror is entirely atmospheric and there are no jump-scare moments or lazy shock moments.
Now, and I will talk about this a bit more later, but this is much less of a traditional “Horror” film than it is a dark fantasy story. Very obviously attuned to this, Mr. Flanagan stays true to the characters and story and does not force jump-scares or excessive gore into the film.
The Overlook Hotel – Listen, no spoilers here, but is anyone really surprised that our final showdown takes place at the infamous Overlook Hotel? It is interesting to see it again and to see Dan return to face his fears and attempt to use the terrifying forces that have haunted him his entire life to help someone else and do something positive.
What Needed Work
The Length – This film is two hours and thirty one minutes and it felt like it. The introduction is so long (more on that in a minute) and we don’t get into anything that resembles our main plot until about an hour into the film.
Also, the third act drags, as we have to pretend that Rose the Hat is a threat (more on this in a moment) and then pretend like we don’t know where the plot is going and that the final sacrifice makes sense and is a surprise.
Not just that, but Cinemark (my local theater chain) has decided to allow regular advertising (like car ads,insurance ads, soda commercials, etc.) to run for at least five minutes before the trailers even start. Now, this is not the Noovie stuff that plays before your show, these are separate ads that play after all of the “What’s New in Noovie!” junk.
So, to clarify, I had a 6:30 p.m. show on Friday – the actual trailers for upcoming movies did not start until 6:36 p.m. and then, after we got twenty minutes of trailers, we got another freaking advertisement for Sprite, meaning that even if I arrived for a 6:30 p.m. show at around 7:00 p.m. I would not have missed a moment of the actual feature.
This is not related to the film, but it is a real issue and one that regular theater-goers like myself need to be aware of. I paid to see a feature film, not advertisements, which add nothing to my theater-going experience, yet I was forced to watch ads for cars, cell phones and Sprite (x3). This is a greedy cash-grab by theaters who have literal captive audiences and it is happening in several theater chains across the country, not just Cinemark.
Now, no, I don’t necessarily think the CEO of Cinemark is going to read this, but I currently have a platform which I can comment on this and let me say, wholeheartedly, this is a terrible business strategy for a company that now has to compete with a surge of streaming content, fewer people wiling to pay theater prices, and competing chains that offer the same content, without the added previews and advertisements.
This decision, undoubtedly, came from the higher-ups at Cinemark who wanted to pocket some extra cash and is not something that we, as customers, should support or encourage because then this practice will become the norm and 6 minutes of advertisements will become 10 minutes, which will become 20 minutes, and so on. If we sit complacent and do not call out and protest this corporate greed, then every theater chain will think they have license to waste our time and money just to turn a quick buck.
With that out of the way, back to my review of Doctor Sleep!
The Set-Up – There is absolutely no need for about the first 30+ minutes of the film.
We are shown that young Danny is struggling after he escapes from the Overlook Hotel… yeah, no shit, his dad just tried to axe murder him and his mom.
Then, we see Ghost-Hallorann show a young Danny how to start to control The Shining and defeat the demons. This might be important, except we get a scene later where, and I am not making this up, in one line the adult Danny (speaking to Ghost-Hallorann) summarize everything that we spend over ten minutes of screen time on.
That may sound like a minor complaint, but for a “horror” film that is two-and-a-half hours, any cuts that you can make would help the flow of the film and the pacing.
Also, we then move to an adult Dan and see that he is struggling with addiction and controlling his demons. He meets Billy (Cliff Curtis) and is given a job.
This is all filler, however. We, the audience, could have figured all of that out from a line of dialogue, or the fact that Dan is a well-known member of his local AA group – we didn’t need to see every boring moment that led him to where our plot finally begins.
The old saying goes, “Start a scene as late as possible and get out as soon as you can.” – Well, someone should have told Mike Flanagan this, because we get the joy of sitting through a lot of nothing as we wait for the plot to begin.
The Villains – Guys, the villains in this film are so laughably bad. And not bad in the good way that villains are supposed to be bad, I mean that they are ineffective, poorly constructed, and weak.
For example: Rose the Hat tries to get into Abra’s mind about halfway through the film… and gets slapped around like a ragdoll by the young girl. From this point on, there is no real threat because we know that, completely unaided and unprepared, Abra is more powerful and more prepared to do battle than our primary antagonist who was at her full power when she was beaten.
But wait, you are saying, Rose the Hat has a whole cult of bad guys that she can call on to do battle with Dan and Abra, right?
Well, sort of. I mean, Rose does have a cult, but the cult members are equally weak and ineffective.
So, Dan and Abra and Billy (Dan’s friend) lead the Cult Members (minus Rose who has stayed behind because the plot needed her to) into an obvious trap out in the woods, which they fall for.
You might think that the super-powered Cult Members would easily overpower Dan, Abra and the mortal, unprepared Billy, but you would be wrong.
As my favorite Youtuber Ryan George says in his “Pitch Meetings” killing the majority of the Cult is actually “Super easy, barely an inconvenience!”
After this, once her followers/friends are killed, Rose the Hat huffs a bunch of remaining “Shine” to make herself super-powered and attack Dan and Abra.
Now, there is no way that Dan nor Abra can know what Rose has done (Snorting Shine), but still, because the plot requires it, Dan says that they have to go back to the Overlook Hotel because he doesn’t think that the two of them can beat Rose the Hat on their own… but, why not?
We, the audience, have seen Abra put the smackdown on Rose, she has told Dan about it, and Rose herself is very aware that she is no match for Abra, so what on earth is Dan worried about?
Finally, The Knot’s whole thing is that they lose “The Shine” over time, so all Dan and Abra really have to do is outrun Rose for a little while and then she will be extremely weakened.
Even if they only manage to run away from her for a short time, every second they can waste is a second that Rose the Hat gets weaker (according to the rules set up by the film) so that is the answer, not “Run to the most haunted place on the planet where I almost died as a child!”
And, the bad guys are stupid. No, I don’t mean that they are just poorly written (which they are) but I mean they walk into obvious, lazy traps… and not just once, but over, and over again. And the same villain walks into a trap laid by the same hero at least twice and is surprised both times that she has been tricked. I mean, come on! That’s just really poor writing.
The Shining – No, I don’t mean the original film, I mean the powers that Dan, Abra, and The Knot have.
I had a similar issue with It (Chapters One and Two) in that Pennywise seemed to be able to do whatever the plot needed him to and seemed to be defeated just because we were at the end of the story, and with no real coherent narrative explanation.
In the same way here, it seems as if Stephen King (and really the screenwriter, Mike Flanagan) just decided that The Shining was an all-purpose plot device:
Need to locate the bad guys? Yup, The Shining can do that… until it can’t later in the film when it is inconvenient to have our heroes know where the bad guys are.
Need to be able to read minds? Yup, The Shining can do that, but is never used to read anyone’s mind who may actually help or provide an answer that our heroes are looking for.
Need to communicate telepathically with someone? Yup, The Shining can do that… until it can’t when it would help our heroes find each other and coordinate an escape from the bad guys.
Need to be able to force someone to do something against their will? Sure, The Shining can do that.
And so on. It just got really tiresome, as there are never any rules for The Shining and so it is active whenever the plot needs it to be and inactive at times just because.
*Now, it may be explained in the book, which is fine, but it is not explained in the film, so there needed to be at least something, no matter how small, to help explain these mysterious powers and their limits to those who have not read the book.
It may seem like I’ve been harsh on the film, but I enjoyed some parts a lot, however, I also found the overall experience and film to be tedious, overlong, and full of plot-holes that really bothered me, so I am going to give this a very low RENT IT rating, only if you are a fan of the book, the original Shining film, Mike Flanagan or the actors. Otherwise, SKIP IT.
But what did you think? Did you enjoy Doctor Sleep more than I did? What are your thoughts? Share them below!
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