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. 


Subscribe to My Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram | Shuffle

Haunted by Grief: A Review of Personal Shopper (2016)

Personal Shopper, directed by Olivier Assayas, begins with the presence of an ghost. Maureen (Kristen Stewart) wanders through an empty house. Doors slam in the distance, things creak. She speaks a name and we see a flicker of something in the shadows behind her, though it’s not entirely clear what.

It’s a perfect set up for a horror movie — the woman alone in the house, the strange sounds, the ghost — and yet, Personal Shopper confounds the viewer by breaking with the expected tropes. Yes, there are ghosts (or something resembling them), but they are mostly harmless, just whispering figures in the dark.

Maureen is a medium, like her twin brother. Each made a pact to the other — whoever dies first would return as a spirit and communicate with the living sibling, proving the existence of an afterlife. So, following her brother’s death, Maureen is in Paris waiting for some sign, some message.

What complicates her search is that she is not a believer (something I’ve never seen from any other medium in a movie before). While Maureen admits to be a medium and being able to sense entities in the world around her, she is not convinced that these entities are human spirits. Even though evidence of a spirit or haunting is present — events that others would take as proof — she remains uncertain as to whether or not this is her brother or something else.

Her pursuit is a blend of doubt and longing. She is desperate to find proof of her brother and finds herself caught in a holding pattern — riding around Paris on a moped and going through the motions of her job as a personal shopper for a celebrity.

Maureen is a woman lost in grief.

One of the most confounding moments in the movie is when it makes a jarring tonal shift as Maureen starts receiving messages from an unknown sender, someone who knows about her and what she’s been doing. Shaken, she at first reaches for the hope that this could be the longed-for proof of her brother’s spirit, only to quickly realize the messages are more likely from a stalker and she becomes wrapped up in a dangerous game.

As a viewer, I found myself confused at first by this storyline. But taking in the context of her character, her choices makes a certain kind of emotional sense. A person lost in their grief might go looking for ways to feel anything else but hurt.

Kristen Stewart’s performance throughout Personal Shopper is stunning. The is the second movie she’s done with Assayas, the first being Clouds of Sils Maria — a movie I adore.  In many instances throughout Personal Shopper, Stewart is alone in a room having to carry the emotional resonance of the moment. And she does so with a beautiful naturalism, bringing up an interior experience to the screen (check out the video essay below for a look at how her acting style has evolved of the years).

Ultimately Personal Shopper is not a horror movie. It defies that expectation at every turn, sometimes in startling and uncomfortable ways. The ending leaves questions confusingly unanswered and is ambiguous to a degree that will likely make some unhappy with the experience. I found myself sitting in silence as the credits rolled, followed by an immediate internet search to see what others thought of the ending and how it was interpreted. It made me wish that I had had someone else watching with me, someone to discuss and debate all the possible meanings.


A Seed to Hatch | Twitter | Instagram

Journeying the Devil’s Road

Devil's Road Film
Still from The Devil’s Road in Baja California.

Saturday night, my sister and I dressed to the nines to attend the private screening of The Devil’s Road: A Baja Adventure at the Rio in Santa Cruz. Directed by J.T. Bruce and produced by Todd Bruce and Bri Bruce, the feature-length documentary film is a family affair and a fantastic achievement.

The Devils Road premiers to a sold out theater.
The Devils Road premiers to a sold out theater.

After learning that their family is descended from Edward Goldman — a naturalist who along with Edward Nelson made a journey through the Baja peninsula cataloging the regions unique flora and fauna — J.T. and Todd decided to reconnect with the past by making their own journey through Baja on rented motorcycles. The film parallels the adventures of both Nelson and Goldman and J.T. and Todd, as they make their way through the arid deserts and beautiful landscapes of the Baja. The movie reveals some of the interesting plant and animal species native to the area, as well as sharing a bit on the culture of the people living there.

In the Q&A session that followed, the team mentioned that the documentary cost around $20,000 including the two expeditions to Baja (along with various other expenses). “We did it pretty cheap,” explained J.T. “Originally, we planned to have a chase car that would follow us with supplies. We also wanted to have a third rider, and we wanted Bri to be down there more — but we just had to keep cutting the fat off the trip to keep it within budget. We made it happen.”

One of the motorcycles used in the cross-Baja journey was displayed at the premier.
One of the motorcycles used in the cross-Baja journey was displayed at the premier.

I thoroughly enjoyed the film and it’s even more impressive considering the micro-budget the Bruce team was working with. I hope The Devil’s Road continues to get attention as the team starts to share the doc with festivals and other venues. Check out the trailer below.


Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

Women in Horror – Revenge, written and directed by Coralie Fargeat

Revenge, written and directed by Coralie Fargeat

Jen ( played by Matilda Lutz) travels to a remote estate expecting to have some fun with her boyfriend — only to have things go horrifically wrong when his two creepy friends arrive.

Revenge, written and directed by Coralie Fargeat

Generally, I’m a little wary of rape revenge storylines — which tend to be exploitative about the rape itself. But this movie handles the moment in an interesting way. When Jen is about to be assaulted, the other friend walks through the door — the camera follows him as he draws out of the room and closes the door behind him. Essentially, we become witness to his complicity, doing nothing to stop what’s happening and seeing him turn up the noise on the TV to avoid hearing the sounds of the attack. One of the things the movie does really well, in this way, is show how quickly these men closed ranks to protect each other. Even her boyfriend, takes the side of his friends, offering to pay her off instead of help her.

What follows is Jen’s escape into the desert and fight for survival as the three men attempt to hunt her down and silence her. The movie is not perfect, having some logical flaws her and there — but it it extremely tense as it unfolds with some solid surprises, not so much in the what, but the how. With its cool style, slick music, and copious amounts of bloodshed and violence, Revenge is a wicked flick.


Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram

Women in Horror – Short Films: Adam Peiper, written and directed by Mónica Mateo

Adam Peiper, written and directed by Mónica Mateo

Adam Peiper

Written & Directed By: Mónica Mateo

Length: 16:29 minutes
Genre: Horror/Fantasy

What It’s About: Adam Peiper begins to experience strange changes as he works stuffing envelopes in a strange factory.

Why I Like It: Although set in a single room, the short implies a larger dystopian world in which efficiency is the prime objective no matter the human cost. The purpose of Adam Peiper’s mindless task of licking envelopes and filing them away is irrelevant to the objective. His task becomes even more onerous and desperate as his body begins to horrifically change. These initial changes grow to be increasingly horrifying as they continue, all brilliantly portrayed through well executed physical effects.

Watch It:


Newsletter | Twitter | Instagram