Doctor Sleep may not diagnose you to the land of nod, but tediously drains your shining spirit. Director Mike Flanagan had an unfathomable task. To both adapt a Stephen King novel, which is no easy achievement considering his uniquely descriptive writing style, and provide a sequel to what many describe as “the greatest horror film of all-time”. Quenching the thirst of King’s avid readers and cinephiles alike. So even without divulging my own opinion on Doctor Sleep, applause must be given for just producing this feature. That, unfortunately for Flanagan, doesn’t result in myself excusing specific inexcusable filmmaking tendencies that taint, not just Doctor Sleep, but various decaying intellectual properties that have been unnecessarily drudged up again.
An alcoholic scarred Dan Torrance, having endured the irrevocable dangers of the Overlook Hotel (‘The Shining’), has his peace shattered when he encounters a young extrasensory girl whom is being hunted down by shine-draining monsters.
First and foremost, I have not read the novel, although this should not come as a surprise. I have however, watched ‘The Shining’ multiple times. Now, what promotes the aforementioned horror as the best of its kind, is legendary Stanley Kubrick using the essence of King’s novel and essentially making his own iteration of it. One that the renowned supernatural writer still, to this day, has mixed emotions for. So for Flanagan to introduce some faithful interpretations of Doctor Sleep, whilst maintaining the cinematic endeavour that Kubrick meticulously crafted, is as I said, unfathomable. And there’s a perfectly valid reason for that. The overtly supernatural strands of the novels do not complement the genesis of terror from Kubrick’s film. Which is why, with great regret, I have to report that Doctor Sleep does not work. It doesn’t.
A beastly behemoth that, whilst does stand on its own two legs, relies on heavy-handed storytelling techniques and nostalgia to tackle both mediums that inspired it. In tonality, they are irrefutably different from each other. But before the disappointing third act is tackled, let’s address some positives first.
Doctor Sleep is a shining example of depicting childhood trauma and how fragmented coping mechanisms are embedded throughout adulthood. Young Danny imaginatively designs mental traps so that he can hold the starving ghosts from the Overlook in captivity. Yet that wilful mentality does not prevent him from suffering with alcoholism, substance abuse and an insalubrious lifestyle that masquerades the trauma instead of curing it. Thematically, this is powerful, and grants the narrative a solid cohesion throughout. For the first two hours, you subconsciously warm to Danny due to the tormenting fears he has established throughout the two films. He’s a pillar of “the shining”. McGregor consistently captivated by depicting a fragile mentality through a physically demanding performance, maintaining the entranced demeanour of his younger character.
The first hour, that heavily explained “the shining” and the intentions of the merciless antagonists The True Knot, experienced inconsistent tones due to the mass sprawl of locational change. One minute we’re in a sleepy town, the next a woodland area, and then all of a sudden eight years have been and gone. The zippy nature of the editing and bloated exposition resulted in atmospheric terror being abolished. The tension was non-existent, and the imitation of Kubrick’s directing style paled in comparison.
Then, the second hour commenced, which is by far one of the strongest acts the year has yet to offer. Flanagan retained a surprisingly dark tone that, was so shocking, forced audience members to leave the auditorium. The mind-space of Abra, a precocious teenager who has “shine”, produced a transcendental imaginative battle against Rose the Hat, leader of The True Knot. Ferguson, who portrayed the primary antagonist, was sensational. Equalling the likes of Pennywise as one of the most enthralling King villains ever depicted. Sinister, unrelenting and bordering on near-lunacy. Controlling every scene from just her eyes alone, she enhanced the palpable tension. She made the second act. In fact, she made the film. The interjecting gore and darkness throughout the middling act abruptly astonished me, and settled for a direction that I thought would control the underwhelming first act.
The third act then arrives, and the entire story crumbles much like the Overlook itself. Plagued by an overshadowing sickness that ‘The Shining’ had produced. Nostalgia. Remember that time where Jack viciously chopped the bedroom door down with an axe? Or that moment where blood came hurtling through the hallways in slow motion? What about Room 237? The introductory swooping camera movement that Kubrick embraced whilst the Torrance’s drove to the hotel? The typewriter? Slowly walking up the stairs in a confrontational manner? The snow-covered hedge maze? The twins? No? You don’t remember? Flanagan has got you covered. Nostalgia is a powerful tool, yet it must be handled with delicacy. The difference between imitating and homaging is very fine, and unfortunately Flanagan settled for the former.
So much of ‘The Shining’ is replicated in the third act, scene for scene, that it was a near-identical copy without the textual substance that accompanied them originally. The re-casting of the original actors, despite Essoe bettering Duvall’s performance (although not difficult), felt unnecessary. Almost tarnishing ‘The Shining’ in itself. Danny walking through the dilapidated hallways for ten minutes whilst Flanagan incorporates identical sequences, had no purpose other than to forcefully remind you that this is the sequel. Literarily, it never progresses Danny’s character or the plot. Rose the Hat staring at the blood-spewing elevators? Pointless. Danny staring at an axe encased in glass? A suitable nod to its predecessor. Do you see the difference? Between imitation and homage? The third act was littered with falsified copies, preying on the nostalgia of fans. It’s uninspired. It’s mundane. And it made me a dull boy.
Creatively, Doctor Sleep managed to infuse the very best of its adapted novel and preceding feature, but embellished the very worst techniques when conveying the plot. Psychologically stimulating without installing dread. Extrasensory without testing the senses. Dimly shining amongst King’s supernatural adaptations.