Movie Review: The Dark Fantasy of DOCTOR SLEEP

Doctor Sleep

Following years after the events of The Shining, a now-grown Danny Torrance struggles to deal with the traumas he endured as a child by suppressing his powers through alcohol. At the same time he starts to face and deal with his alcoholism, Abra Stone (a young girl becoming aware of her own powers) initiates a long distance friendship with Dan through the shining. When a cult of immortals who prey on children with powers becomes aware of Abra’s existence, Dan has to find a way to protect her. 

Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance.
Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance.
Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone.
Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone.

Doctor Sleep is a fascinating challenge for any screenwriter and/or filmmaker. On the one hand, it’s an adaptation of Stephen Kings book. On the other, it also exists as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, starring Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall — an adaptation that King is notably not a fan of, but who’s influence has entered pop culture to such an extent that it’s impossible to ignore. 

I can’t speak to how well the movie adapts the book, as I have not read it yet. In comparison to Kubrick’s The Shinning, however, which can easily be listed among the scariest movies ever made, it seems inevitable that Doctor Sleep would pale in comparison. In other words, it’s really not that scary (with the exception of a particularly harrowing scene in the middle).

The filmmakers do a lot of work to call back to the 1980 film, designing the imagery and  sound design so as to echo the original — both of which I enjoyed. However, Doctor Sleep doesn’t deliver on the ever present menace of The Shining. There are a number of reasons for this. The movie has to jump between multiple characters and locations across the U.S., eliminating the claustrophobic feeling of being trapped alone in a hotel through the winter. Doctor Sleep also is imbued with a greater amount of exposition and tends to be more on the nose with its horror, with the ghosts in full view — compared to The Shining in which much of the tension comes from the eerie uncertainty of what’s happening within the hotel. 

It’s the portrayals of the Torrance family from the ‘80s that I found the most . . .  upsetting? Disturbing? There’s an inherent challenge of trying to recreate the iconic portrayals of Jack (Nicholson), Wendy (Duvall), and Danny (Danny Lloyd) from the original movie. Other filmmakers have managed to pull of convincing computer generated recreations of past characters (Princess Leia and Grand Moff Tarkin in Rogue One, for example). For Doctor Sleep, however, the filmmakers (likely do to cost considerations) elected to cast actors who look eerily similar to their 1980s counterparts. The result represents a strange uncanny valley — they are similar enough to be recognizable, but dissimilar enough to be unsettling — which pulled me out of the movie just as much as bad CGI would have. 

All of that said, I actually enjoyed the experience of Doctor Sleep. I particularly like the portrayal of Rose the Hat, who is an interesting blend of charming, cruel, compassionate to those in her group, and terrifying to those who are her victims. She’s was instantly a character I found fascinating — and one that I’d consider cosplaying or dressing up as for Halloween in the future. 

Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat.
Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat.

As a completely separate experience from The Shining, and subsequently separate from my expectations for horror, Doctor Sleep works for me. I delighted in the movie as an ethereal dark fantasy, which offers up the dangerous underbelly to a world in which supernatural powers exist. There are parts of this that are visually beautiful, and parts of this that are graphically disturbing. Having watching the movie, I’m now wanting to go read the novel in order to dive more deeply into these characters and their backstories. 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BOzFZxB-8cw

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