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Doctor Sleep (2019)

November 14th, 2019 by unkle lancifer · 5 Comments

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.

Tags: General Horror

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 LiviaBNo Gravatar // Nov 14, 2019 at 9:15 pm

    Unk, you are right on the nose here. I liked the book and really wanted to like this movie. Although the book’s ending was pretty cheesy, it was serviceable. The movie’s was so disappointing. So many missed opportunities! I don’t get all the people who loved it either. All I can do is imagine what could have been…

  • 2 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 14, 2019 at 10:24 pm


    Thank you! I feel less alone! I admire this movie a lot but that ending really didn’t work for me. The book (because it followed King’s novel) had the Overlook destroyed and they simply fought where it used to be. It’s hard for me to imagine it would be simply boarded up (after the events of Kubrick’s movie) in almost pristine condition for 40 years. Are we meant to think they closed up after that single murder? In this country? That’s OK, I can think of many excuses for that but…I guess there was not enough time spent in that arena for it to gel for me. I don’t see the madness of the place possessing Dan like that so instantly and seeing the old lady slowly pull away the shower curtain 4 times in one movie is way too excessive and ultimately demystifying. That said, some things just work way better/are more convincing in a book and I think this was a hard thing to pull off. I do wish they cut out the elevator flood scene and the Hat’s reaction to it. That’s what burst the bubble for me. I don’t think that was hers to see. Why couldn’t she see something new?

  • 3 LiviaBNo Gravatar // Nov 15, 2019 at 6:44 am

    YES. The Overlook, or at least the spot where it was built, is an ancient evil. And all it’s got is the same old set list? I felt a real cynicism from the filmmakers, like they were sure an audience would not only reject something new, but would ONLY accept EXACTLY what they’d seen before. And I guess some people loved it. I was disappointed. Also, shoehorning the ending of the first book into the ending of this movie (as far as the fate of the Overlook) did not sit right. My husband and I looked at each other and were like, “So I guess the Overlook kind of won?” I don’t usually go on like this about a movie, but I was super disappointed.
    I guess I’ll find solace in the fact that they kept my favorite part of the book, and probably one of King’s best ideas; that Danny learned to create a mind prison for the ghosts and turned the tables on them, even as a young boy. ‘“Hello, Mrs. Massey. I brought you something.” At the last moment she understood and began to scream.’ Love it.

  • 4 Dr Nick RivieraNo Gravatar // Nov 15, 2019 at 8:45 am

    Oh boy. First, let me say I was anxiously awaiting your review – hoping that you would find the same pleasure in this that you did in IT: CHAPTER 2. That said, it breaks my heart a little that people are so ho-hum on this one. I Loved it.

    Am I so much of an easy lay for anything related to Kubrick’s THE SHINING that I’ll lay down and gladly accept anything that returns me to the world of the Overlook Hotel? Yes, I am. As much as I loved the Overlook scenes in READY PLAYER ONE it’s a shame that that film beat this one to the punch with it’s recreation of the hotel. Still, I feel like this is a dream movie for SHINING fans. Mike Flanagan nails the balance between King and Kubrick’s separate universes perfectly. THIS IS A VERY DIFFERENT FILM FROM THE SHINING. In world without the original book and film, this could be mistaken for a superhero origin film. But it’s a great story, well told. At 2.5 hours, the film flies by and is never slow. By the time we get to The Overlook Hotel, I was totally absorbed into the story and the characters. It’s wonderful. I do wish it were more of a horror film – it really isn’t scary (nor does it try to be). Also, as much as I’m a sucker for it, I do think Flanagan goes back to the SHINING well a few too many times. There is a particular set that mimics Ulmann’s office that was fun but unnecessary, and that it followed VERY closely by a particular music queue from the original film that is REALLY overkill. This is on top of many other SHINING elements (the music, the heartbeat) that constantly make you aware that you are watching a sequel to Kubrick’s film. Both of those offenses come pretty early and it is a bit worrisome that the film will only be fanservice. However, the film rights itself and makes itself it’s own thing (AS WELL AS a sequel to THE SHINING). Only one other time does it severely misstep IMHO (going back to the elevator of blood – the miniature they used was glaringly obvious and the whole thing was pretty unnecessary). But the film is full of surprises for SHINING fans; full of shots that mirror Kubrick’s directly. It’s a JOY. The cast is good. The story is cool. The direction is peppy and inventive. What’s not to love?

    Perhaps we are seeing the same scism of “what did you see first?” that we find with THE SHINING in general? Personally, I saw Kubricks movie first and in a pretty unique situation – I was young, probably 12, and running a high fever and the movie was having one of its first showings on network TV. It terrified me. To me, this is THE SHINING. Later, reading the book I found King’s version to be the inferior version (highly inferior, my teen self would tell you). I haven’t read it since. The “meh” reactions, at least here, seem to be from folks who read the DOCTOR SLEEP novel. I did not. I expect if I read it now, having loved the movie, I’d be equally disappointed because it would not deliver THE SHINING that “I” want to see.

    Wrapping up. I wish you had liked this more (and what’s with the diss of HILL HOUSE? that show was wonderful!) but, for me, I’m so happy to have two 5-STAR King adaptations in theaters this year. I probably won’t slip that into my Thanksgiving blessing this year – but I’ll be thinking it. 😉

  • 5 unkle lanciferNo Gravatar // Nov 15, 2019 at 9:40 am


    Yep, that’s my main beef, they go to this incredible place and it’s like a broken record skipping? It’s odd too because in an earlier scene young Danny reprimands Hallorann for describing the spirits as “pictures in a book” when they are actually dangerous and then we go to the Overlook and they are mostly presented as just that, pictures in a book- images that seem almost on another plane from the observer. We know the old lady can slowly open a shower curtain (4 times?) but does anything ever happen after that? Comparing that to what happens in the original where Jack is seduced by a beauty and then watches her rot in his hands in the mirror and her lunging toward the camera. it’s not only less scary, it’s ripped of all meaning. It’s become a mechanical funhouse scare.

    Dr. Nick,
    There’s much to love about this movie and I’m envious that it consistently worked for you. I fought hard to stay in the game, I truly did. I had goosebumps on top of goosebumps when they visited the Overlook in READY PLAYER ONE. I was primed to fall for every tasty SHINING Easter egg/callback thrown at me. It just would not click with me. I’m hoping it will in the future. Maybe I was still mourning the death of Billy and wondering why Abra couldn’t say more than “Hi” to her poor mom on the phone who just found her husband dead on the kitchen floor! I definitely think something better could have been done with the elevator or they could have skipped it completely. I’m not sure it had a place here. I think you may be on to something as far as how reading the book might effect your experience. As far as THE SHINING goes I love both the book and the movie and I find them both equally scary for different reasons.

    And I LOVE THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE I just felt betrayed by the happy ending. Honestly if I could just turn off the critical voice in my head and love everything I would (no I wouldn’t) but I have to be honest when something doesn’t sit right with me. And like I said in the post, I really dug this movie up to the climax at the Overlook. As always, I’m only happy for you if you loved it. So many people that I respect do. I’m seeing a ton of enthusiasm for it online. In fact Stephen King loves it- so there’s that! I’ll try it again when the DVD hits my local library- I promise!

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