Mike Flanagan is an incredibly talented filmmaker with singular talents and a sincere love of the genre that consistently flows through his work. He also doesn’t mind driving me insane by wearing his heart on his sleeve, underlining things that don’t require it and hitting sour notes at the worst possible time. Is it just me? I think it’s just me and I have to accept that. I loved THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE but felt kicked in the shins by its neatly tied in a bow closure. I think he achieved the impossible adapting GERALD’S GAME but felt yanked out of the drama by the overstated villain. Now, I absolutely loved about eighty percent of DOCTOR SLEEP only to find portions of its climax practically cringe-worthy. But look, eighty percent is a great grade. It’s basically a “B” right? I just feel like a real stick in the mud about this because I see so many with nothing but hearts in their eyes concerning this film. It is unquestionably quite an achievement, with inevitable classic status performances; it flies admirably high but to me, its landing is kinda janky.
Ewan McGregor is Danny Torrance (now Dan) all grown up and slipping into self-destroying, memory-buffering alcoholism. Luckily fate does him a solid and pushes the nicest guy on Earth, Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis) into his path and soon he’s collecting AA coins and helping the elderly through the doorway of death with the help of a psychic cat (all cats are psychic and this is the part of the movie where I wish it was a mini-series so that we could spend more time in this cozy zone). He also discovers another person with his “shining” abilities, a staunch young girl named Abra (Kyleigh Curran) who he messages with frequency via his groovy chalkboard wall (he has the coolest apartment since MORK & MINDY). Trouble arises when a vampire-like group of psychic energy-sucking miscreants led by “Rose The Hat” (Rebecca Ferguson) get a whiff of Abra’s whammy fuel and decide it will be really awesome to smoke her like a doobie (these rats are so unscrupulous that they chomped on a little boy after a baseball game in the movie’s most disturbing scene). To be clear: acting and casting-wise, everybody in this movie is uniformly excellent. McGregor is deep as a well, Curtis is rock solid, Curran is steadfast, Ferguson delivers something for the ages and her right-hand henchman Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon) and new recruit “Snakebite Andi” (Emily Alyan Lind) are as compelling as they are threatening. Even more incredibly, Carl Lubly as Hallorann and Alex Essoe as Wendy Torrence (!) occupy their legendary roles effortlessly.
I’m all in and things keep getting better and better and its all beautifully winding its way to the inevitable confrontation at the ground zero of Dan’s distress. I’m floating on a cloud. I love these people, good and bad (though we needed more cat), I feel like I’ve rarely seen a movie so respectful of its character’s motivations. What a beautiful examination of trauma, recovery and the value of self-forgiveness and friendship. In fact, I like this “Rose The Hat” much better than the Janis Joplin creep I pictured in my head when I read the book! And now THE SHINING music starts! I can hardly take it! It’s all so exquisite and then we get to the piece de resistance… the Overlook Hotel! This is it; this is what I’ve waited decades for… I’m with Dan, I am Dan at this point…
The wheels of the cart don’t fall off at the Overlook hotel but they sure did screech and wobble for me. I held on as long as I could, I clutched with all my might but something about the climax chaffed me the wrong way. Maybe it’s a weakness in me but it starts to feel like a cross between visual karaoke and a theme park maze. It’s like they’re strolling through a wax museum. At one point Rose The Hat looks down the hall, sees the elevator pouring blood and sort of does a knowing smile/wink that is so on the nose I thought she might start singing, “I think I’m going to like it here” from ANNIE. I dunno, in THE SHINING (both the King book and Kubrick flick) it felt like the spirits involved were infinite and unknowable, here they feel like a limited “Legion of Doom” rogues gallery. It’s me. It’s my fault. I’m a curmudgeon. I can’t think of any way Flanagan could have handled the material better (hmmm, maybe go all in and throw me the bear/dog man bone and lay off the bathroom lady a tad?). Don’t worry, I’m not going to throw out the old hag out with the bathwater. I’m sure I’ll watch this movie again and I’ll soften to seeing haunting horror iconography scrolled through like a family vacation slideshow. My niece texted me after the movie and asked me how it was. I texted back, “I have mixed feelings but it’s definitely worth seeing”. At the risk of sounding like the type of person who would call Picasso’s Guernica “busy”, that’s pretty much my review in a nutshell.