What.... exactly.... do you do here?
Doctor Sleep (2019): Years following the events of The Shining, a now-adult Dan Torrance meets a young girl with similar powers as he tries to protect her from a cult known as The True Knot who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.
It's rare for a film to leave me this flabbergasted. This dumbfounded. This awestruck by the sheer audacity of what I just witnessed. We've waited nearly 40 years for a sequel to one of the greatest horror films, (and films period, for that matter) and, in this current Stephen King Renaissance, it was inevitable that it would finally come. Doctor Sleep is that long awaited sequel. Going in, I was temperamentally excited. How bad could a sequel to The Shinning, The EFFING SHINING, possibly be? The Shining's haunting formula of psychological terror and human degradation is the standard-bearer for what horror films should be. All they had to do was replicate that genre-defining formula, or at the VERY LEAST attempt to mimic it, but instead we get….. witches. And, look. I get it. Stephen King is weird and somehow didn't like Stanley Kubrick's adaptation of his book. The Overlook Hotel (the setting for The Shining) isn't even in the Doctor Sleep novel. That's not my problem with this film - in fact, I actually somewhat enjoyed the lore King expanded on. That's not my issue with this film. My issue is that it ignores EVERYTHING that made its legendary predecessor great in favor of…. witches. Effing witches. Doctor Sleep is not just the most disappointing film I've seen all year, it's one of the most disappointing films I have ever seen. WHY DO YOU IGNORE EVERYTHING THAT MADE YOUR PREDECESSOR ICONIC?
Ok, I'm gushing over it to a near unhealthy degree, so let's talk about The Shining for a minute. Yes, the original is buoyed by one of the greatest performances ever, (thank you, Jack Nicholson) but the meticulous filmmaking of director Stanley Kubrick (you've probably heard of him) also amplified the sheer horror of this pillar of American cinema. The Shining plays on the very human fear of the unknown to deliver its terror, versus the stereotypical jump scare. As Kubrick himself put it, The Shining is, at its core, about one family going insane together. It's simple, quiet, and elegant. And that's what makes it terrifying. You don't have any singular omnipresent being slowly ramping the scares up to eleven before everybody dies. The Shining is, simply, a study in the human psyche when confronted with some weird and unusual, yet eerily plausible events. However, Doctor Sleep gives all of that up in favor of witches. By rooting this sequel in the supernatural, director Mike Flanagan (and more so Stephen King, for that matter) forgo the entire psychological evaluation that made The Shining as great as it was. The fear of the unknown is completely lost in favor of something realistically implausible, something supernatural and near omnipresent, which is as frustrating as it sounds.
Yes, this comes despite some admittedly decent lore-building moments. Rose the Hat is a legitimately interesting villain, and actress Rebecca Ferguson certainly had a ball playing the character. She's cool, calm, and collected, which makes her pretty terrifying when she goes off on someone. Rose the Hat is a somewhat menacing yet identifiable character as she does anything to protect her flock, but she is lost in this incomprehensible sea of noise. Because, again…. Witches.
I don't know. Maybe if you approach this film more as a suspenseful, supernatural, spiritual successor to The Shining, you'll have a better time. Clearly, I was hoping for a more forward sequel. But…. Will you? This film is 151 minutes long and it draaaaags in the second act. The writing is all over the place. At times it's great, but at others.... characters stop to drop monologues at the most random times, the Stephen King tropes feel depressingly forced, (lines like, "Fresh off the bus" are worn out in 2019 after 15 other Stephen King adaptations since It) and there's just…. Zero tension. It takes 2 full hours for the film to finally revisit the iconic Overlook Hotel, (which isn't in the novel, mind you) and when it does there are some admittedly great moments. (That can be described as fan service, but at least there was some good psychological tension here) There's one truly great sequence between Dan (Ewan McGregor) and his father figure, Jack, that doubles as a child coming to grips with the insanity of his father, all dressed as this incredibly tense and gripping moment with a seeming innocent bartender. In this moment, all the tropes that made The Shining great return with haunting effects, buuuuuuuut it really serves to make the rest of the film that much more frustrating. Where were sequences like this in the previous 2 hours? Why did it take the unforgettable set of The Shining to make this film interesting? Why did Stephen King go all-in on witches??? Not even a good performance from Ewan McGregor can save this. I don't think it should take somewhat blatant fan service for us to be like, "Oh, this is what made The Shining great, why didn't you do this earlier?" I think if you approach this more as a film about witches and their titanic struggle against Dan Torrance and Abra Stone, (Kyliegh Curran - also really good) you'll have more fun. If you're looking for anything resembling a direct sequel to The Shining, however..... stay away.
My Number: 4/10
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