You won’t be dozing off in this one.
The climax of Doctor Sleep really confused me because it takes place at the Overlook hotel (this is shown in the trailer). For the record, I have managed to watch Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining exactly one time and that was decades ago. Despite it being considered a masterpiece by many people, I remember it being really boring and not scary, falling asleep multiple times during multiple attempts to watch it. That one time is actually a composite of piecing together multiple viewings, starting each successive time from the point at which I was bored into unconsciousness. So, it should not surprise you that I do not remember the hotel still standing at the end of the film.
My memory of the story comes from reading Stephen King’s novel and the mid-1990s miniseries adaptation featuring Steven Weber. In both of those versions of the story, the Overlook is destroyed at the end. Hence, my confusion during Doctor Sleep. Don’t get me wrong – I’m not complaining that Doctor Sleep is a sequel to Kubrick’s version of the story (no, seriously), but I am wondering if King resurrected the hotel in the novel. I am guessing yes, but I refuse to Google it since Doctor Sleep is high up on my list of books to read. Now that I have seen Doctor Sleep, I need to bump it up the list even higher because the movie was quite good.
(SPOILER ALERT – minor plot and character points, but only for the movie.)
Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is all grown up and drinking to a point that even his father would think is excessive. After escaping the Overlook hotel with his mother, some of the Overlook’s ghouls followed him and continued to terrorize him (when he was still a child). Luckily, he was also visited by old (and dead) Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly), who taught him how to confront the ghosts and lock them away in his mind with the power of his shining. Back to adult Danny, the ghosts may be locked away, but he is still haunted by his past, so he tries to drink it away. As his father belatedly learned, drink as medicine does not work. Not that we can blame him – how else do you mentally cope with freaky twin girls and a gross old naked lady in a bathtub haunting your synapses?
Eventually, Danny ends up in a small town in New England, where a local, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), takes him under his wing and helps him sober up. While Danny is growing up, drinking, and getting sober, we are introduced to Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Yes, the punctuation in that previous sentence is correct – she is called Rose the Hat. In this introduction, she lures to her a young girl by offering her a flower, delivers creepo-in-van dialogue and facial expressions, then grabs hold of the girl’s arm (drawing blood even) until the rest of Rose’s clan swoops in and swarms the girl. I really like this scene because it doesn’t mince words about Rose or try to endear the audience to her with any sympathy. She is a monster right off the bat and we are instantly clear on who Danny will ultimately face off with in the climax.
The other important person in the film is teenaged Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran). At a young age, Abra was enthralled by magicians because she herself could perform magic. As it turns out, Abra has the shining as well and has developed it quite a bit into her teenage years. When Danny moves into the small town and starts sobering up, very young Abra makes contact with him through messages on a chalkboard in his apartment. Eight years later, teenage Abra sends him another message and they begin talking a little more frequently. This was another clever bit of imagination in the story that highlights another use of the shining. I suspect the book has far more correspondence between the two, but is justifiably cut from a movie that is still two and a half hours long.
These three people are arguably the most powerful people on Earth, with regards to the shining. The difference with Rose is that she (and her clan) eats the shining. Much of the film is devoted to Rose’s companion Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) – a very Stephen King-y character name – whose shining allows him to track down others who may also have the shining. Eventually, they become aware of young Abra and how immense is her shining and all of them are licking their chops. Of course, you, the audience, expect the movie to become a Terminator analogue at this point, with Danny using his power to protect the girl while fending off a seemingly invincible Rose, both of them on the run. But, it’s so much better than that. To paraphrase Crow Daddy, King and screenwriter Mike Flanagan have a few tricks up their sleeves.
Like any good Stephen King tale, the audience is drawn in through a combination of rich and well-developed main characters and a methodical plot building to a crescendo at the end. Details and call-backs are used to maximum effect, pushing the story and characters forward. The chemistry between Danny and Abra is perfect, as she leads Danny and forces him to confront his past and his shining. Abra is the stronger of the two, highlighted in several great scenes showcasing her abilities. Never does it feel like an inappropriate relationship, partly because Abra often feels like the older and wiser of the two. Also like any good King tale, it makes you feel icky and uncomfortable at certain parts, including the treatment of some of the children. The fate of young Bradley Trevor will particularly make you squirm.
If there is one negative thing about the film, it is that the title doesn’t really fit the film. When Danny is first sobering up, he is offered a job as an orderly at a hospice. One night, Danny follows the building’s resident housecat into a man’s room, where the man informs Danny that the cat only sits on people’s beds when they are about to die. Danny comforts the man and mentally pushes him to sleep to help the man face his fear, earning him the nickname Doctor Sleep. This is the one thing in the entire movie that never comes into play in the main story, instead simply used as a tiny bit of character development to show Danny willing to use his power again, after locking it away as much as possible. Ordinarily, this would not be a complaint, but the title suggests this ability to be much more important. Considering how careful King is with his titles, I am guessing there is far more to this in the book and the film leaves it hanging out there.
Doctor Sleep is one of the better movies I have seen this year, partly due to the fact that I am a big Stephen King fan and this Stephen King adaptation was not a complete letdown like so many before it. To be fair, I have not seen It: Chapter 2 or the Pet Sematary remake, but both of those are stories I am well familiar with, and I still have a bit of The Dark Tower taste left in my mouth from last year. I enjoyed the homages to the original adaptation of The Shining (especially the Redrum call-back), as well as the idea of monsters feeding on people’s shine (or steam, as they call it). Most importantly, I was happy that a two-and-a-half-hour movie felt like it was half that long because we all know how long some of King’s books are and can feel like.
Rating: Do not ask for any money back no matter how uncomfortable this movie makes you.