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

Song of Susannah – Reading The Dark Tower, Part VI

Here are Part IPart IIPart IIIPart IV, and Part V of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

The Story

Song of Susannah is a cool 400 pages or so — quite a relief from the 850+ pages of the two previous volumes in the series. Strictly on a physical level, it’s a lot less book to heft around. However, the condensed nature of the book does not negate the value of its storytelling. Song of Susannah is tight in its action and character development, which makes the story all the stronger. 

At the end of Wolves of the Calla, the battle was won but the katet was divided — Susannah, pregnant with a demon’s child and being overtaken by Mia (a new personality), has stollen the Black 13 (a powerful and dangerous stone) and absconded to another world and time. Song of Susannah opens in the midst of this loss, with Roland, Eddie, Jake, and Callahan nursing their wounds and working to come up with a plan to both save Susannah (in one time and place) and obtain the empty lot with the rose from an obsessive bookseller named Tower (who exists in a completely different time and place).

All their planning doesn’t help much, however, because ka has its own designs, immediately setting everything awry — Roland and Eddie find themselves fighting thugs while chasing after the bookseller, while Jake, Callahan, and Oy find themselves going after Susannah.

Unlike the previous book (with it’s slow build to battle), the action in Song of Susannah comes quick and bloody. Roland and Eddie are immediately attacked when they land in the past, and Susannah’s struggles are constant, if internal. The intensity is ever present, since the characters (and the readers) know they are facing virtual ticking bombs — time is desperately short. Failure to achieve either of their goals will result in death of Susannah and/or the destruction of all the universes. 

Structurally, Song of Susannah is different from any other book in the series — each chapter is titled as a verse, making the book itself the overall “song.” Each chapter also concludes with a two stanzas of a commala, which is a kind of call and response song. The structure and inclusion of verse lends the story a folky vibe, like a legendary tale shared over a campfire. This feels fitting considering the revelations that come later in the book, with the writing down of tales being vitally important to the characters survival. 

Commala-ka-kate
You’re in the hands of fate.
No matter if it’s real or not,
The hour groweth late.

Commala-come-eight!
The hour groweth late!
No matter what shade ya cast
You’re in the hands of fate.

Continue reading “Song of Susannah – Reading The Dark Tower, Part VI”

Culture Consumption: January 2019

Hi, lovelies. Here’s my month in books, movies, television, and games. 🙂 I’ll be posting my favorite reads and movies of the year in the next week or two.

Books

 

I finished three fantastic poetry collections this month. Claudia Rankine’s Citizen: An American Lyric is a justifiably lauded collection of poetry and essays. The collection offers an unflinching look at the everyday realities of racism in America, with the second person narration drawing the reader directly into the experience. The blend of writing styles and art make for a powerful and necessary read.

My Body Is a Poem I Can’t Stop Writing by Kelly Lorraine Andrews is a beautiful little chapbook published by Pork Belly Press. These poems explore the physicality of existing in a body, with a blend of mortality and eroticism.

Ivy Johnson’s Born Again dives into the ecstatic expression of religious experience. With its confessional style, it gives power to the female voice, rending open that which would be hidden behind closed doors. Check out my interview with Johnson on the New Books in Poetry podcast.

I also completed Wolves of the Calla, the fifth book in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series. It was a fantastic read, so I wrote a bit of a post about why I loved the story and characters.

Continue reading “Culture Consumption: January 2019”

Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V

Here are Part IPart IIPart III, and Part IV of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

Wolves of the Calla by Stephen KingPart IV is focused on book five, Wolves of the Calla, and as with all of these posts, there will be so many spoilers.

When I first started reading this series as a teenager, I tore through each of the books, eager to get to the end, only to come to an abrupt halt when I discovered the fifth book had not been written yet. It took Stephen King six years after finishing Wizard and Glass to finish and publish The Wolves of the Calla. During that time, I had lost the thread of the narrative. I always intended to finish reading the series, but it settled comfortably into the back burner and stayed there — until now.

Wolves of the Calla is the first book in the series that’s new to me, and that newness might be why it took me ten months to get around to reading it. Lately, I’ve been having a hard time coming back to stories (TV shows especially), finding myself simultaneously caught between wanting to know the ending to the story and at the same time not wanting to know what happened to the characters. Reading books one to four was comfortable, stepping into the fifth book was a risk, the witness of terrible things, or worse, disappointment in the story or characters.

I shouldn’t have been so worried.

Continue reading “Wolves of the Calla – Reading The Dark Tower, Part V”

Wizard and Glass – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part IV

“Dreams either mean nothing or everything — and when they mean everything, they almost always come as messages from . . . well, from other levels of the Tower.” He gazed at Eddie shrewdly. “And not all messages are sent by friends.”
— from Wizard and Glass

Here are Part I, Part II, and Part III of my journey through Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series.

Wizard and Glass by Stephen KingPart IV is focused on my reread of book four, Wizard and Glass.

Fair warning: Spoilers ahead.

The third book ended on such a massive cliffhanger — with Roland and his ka-tet set to begin a battle of riddles with a homicidal AI train — that it was a great relief to finally get around to reading Wizard and Glass. This was even though I’ve read these books before and knew how the scene would play out.

Wizard and Glass opens right back with the start of the riddling competition between Blaine the Train and Roland, Eddie, Susannah, and Jake a scene I remember being delighted by when I first read it. And it was just as entertaining to read again, because of how King manages to create intensity in a game of wordplay. I also just really like the idea of riddling, even if I’m not particularly good at it myself. The game plays out, with the group growing more and more desperate each time Blaine smugly answers — with everything wrapping up in a maniacal and humorous form of heroism.

Our heroes all survive of course, arriving at the destination of Topeka, which turns out to be an alternate version of our Kansas — a Kansas emptied of life due to a plague that killed off the population (which I’ll come back to later). All of this is an introductory endcap to what is ultimately the heart of the novel, Roland opening up to the group with the tale of his first mission as a gunslinger and his first love.

Continue reading “Wizard and Glass – Returning to The Dark Tower, Part IV”