'Doctor Sleep' can't escape the spectre of 'The Shining'

Posted 12/31/69

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"Doctor Sleep" attempts the …

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'Doctor Sleep' can't escape the spectre of 'The Shining'

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"Doctor Sleep" attempts the impossible task of emerging from the shadow of Stanley Kubrick's legendary adaptation of Stephen King's novel “The Shining." So, it was almost doomed from the start.

Alternatively, I'm going to shine (pun intended) some light on just how much “Doctor Sleep” is trying not to be the nearly 40-year-old horror film. Director Mike Flanagan is attempting to do something entirely different — for better or worse.

“Doctor Sleep” opens with a recreated scene of young Danny Torrence wheeling through the halls of The Overlook Hotel. Danny hasn’t spoken since the events of “The Shining.” He and his mother live in Florida where he is still haunted by ghosts of The Overlook. Some years later, we find Danny (Ewan McGreggor) as a drunken drifter who finds some measure of stability in a Massachusetts town. He is contacted by Abra Stone, a 13-year-old girl who can “shine” like he does. The two come together to track an ancient group of travelers — the True Knot— that scour the world looking for people who have “shining” abilities for them to harvest and consume.

The major misstep of this film, in my opinion, is it lacks the psychological and claustrophobic nature of The Overlook Hotel. The move of the setting of this film to virtually the entire country seems to disregard one of the main strengths of “The Shining,” and it effectively reduces “Doctor Sleep” to a ho-hum game of cat-and-mouse.

Danny spends “The Shining” running from the ghosts that haunt The Overlook Hotel and also, eventually, his crazed father. He only narrowly escapes being consumed by The Overlook. 

In stark contrast, Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) takes the fight to her antagonists in several scenes in “Doctor Sleep.” Stone's tween character displays a more powerful grasp of her powers than 5-year-old Danny ever did.

Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) is nearly the only member of the True Knot collective who is the least bit interesting (besides “Grampa Flick.”) Zero time is spent developing them. However, Ferguson does a fine job portraying the villainous siren Rose the Hat. I wish they had given us some flashback scenes of her to flesh out her backstory.

Make no mistake, if you've seen any of the trailers leading up to the release of “Doctor Sleep,” Danny's return to The Overlook is what film goers will pay their admission to see.

Purist fans of the novel may want to steer clear, or at the very least steel yourself, because, surprise, surprise, the film's ending is apparently different than King's novel. It has literally become a running gag — with a nod to this practice in the most recent “It Chapter Two,” as well as, King famously admitting he liked Frank Darabont's ending of  “The Mist” better than his novel's ending.

Being so far removed from the 1980 release of the first film, “Doctor Sleep” had to recast the roles of Danny, Wendy and Jack Torrence. Character actor Carl Lumbly turns in a particularly good performance as Dick Hallorann — the kindly cook, mentor and fellow “Shiner.” 

The score by The Newton Brothers (The Haunting of Hill House) is effectively evocative of the sound design from Kubrick's film.

The two most effective scenes in the film are the abduction involving Jacob Tremblay's cameo and the bar scene at The Overlook. The massacre of the baseball player is the only time that I actually cringed during the film. It is the most effective scene at defining just how vicious the True Knot members are. As uncomfortable as that scene is, it is equally disappointing  there weren't more scenes like it throughout the film.

Danny's time at the bar in The Overlook is a revealing scene where Danny gets to confront the sins of his father. 

“The Shining” still feels like a force of nature, even 40 years later. Unfortunately, "Doctor Sleep,” —with its expanded playing field, thinly developed antagonists and lack of truly memorable original scenes—doesn't deliver. The film has some good things in it, but ultimately it just feels like a diminutive cat-and-mouse game that is just barely propped up on nostalgia for the original.

I give “Doctor Sleep” 6 out of 10 stars.

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