Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep (Mike Flanagan, 2019) wr. Mike Flanagan, dp Michael Fimognari; Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis

Doctor Sleep (marketed as Stephen King's Doctor Sleep) is a 2019 American supernatural horror film based on the 2013 novel of the same name by Stephen King, a sequel to King's 1977 novel The Shining. The film, which also serves as a direct sequel to the film adaptation of The Shining, directed by Stanley Kubrick, is set several decades after the events of the original and combines elements of the 1977 novel as well. Doctor Sleep is written, directed, and edited by Mike Flanagan and stars Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance, a man with psychic abilities who struggles with childhood trauma. Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, and Cliff Curtis have supporting roles. In the film, a now-adult Dan Torrance must protect a young girl with similar powers from a cult known as The True Knot, who prey on children with powers to remain immortal.

A feature film must stand alone in terms of how it's understood and judged. It's true there are franchises, sequels, prequels, and so on, but an individual film must make sense in its own right. This is absolutely not the case with Doctor Sleep.

It is impossible to understand this film without knowledge of The Shining (Stanley Kubrick, 1980). There are large number of visual quotations from and references to the earlier film which to a viewer who has not seen it will mean nothing: Danny riding his trike, the old woman in the bath, the twins, and so on, are all simply brought into the sequel without any explanation. Flanagan even quotes the poster moment - Jack Nicholson's maniac head appearing in the broken door - replacing it with Ewan McGregor's impassive one, producing one of the flattest moments in his movie.

So there's that. There's also Stephen King, who is apparently still hanging around, tinkering when he can with other people's plots, wanting them to more accurately reproduce his own. So poor Flanagan had to deal with that as well: demands from the King camp that he make good what Kubrick 'got wrong' (for his own very good reasons—making a great film).

One result of all this that the film has too much material, trying to cram in Flanagan's new ideas, King's old ones, and accommodating lots of Kubrick's visuals as well. A second result - to be expected as a consequence - is that the film is much too long.

There are good things. Outstanding for me is the mature performance of 14-yr-old Kyliegh Curran, as Abra. Rebecca Ferguson is pretty good too, but can't sustain the same level of interest over such a long performance. The realisation of The True Knot group is powerful, but self-contained: it comes and go, and there is still a lot of movie left to get through. And personally, I couldn't be bothered with sorting out the different realms in which the Shining, the Steam, and other such hocus pocus exist (not to mention Doctor Sleep!) But that's just me.

References and Links

Courtesy of Wikipedia:
On review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes, the film holds a "certified fresh" approval rating of 77% based on 307 reviews, with an average rating of 7.05/10. The website's critics consensus reads, "Doctor Sleep forsakes the elemental terror of its predecessor for a more contemplative sequel that balances poignant themes against spine-tingling chills."[48] Metacritic assigned the film a weighted average score of 59 out of 100, based on 46 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[49] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B+" on an A+ to F scale, while those at PostTrak gave it an average four out of five, with 60% saying they would definitely recommend it to a friend.[50]
Brian Tallerico of gave the film three out of four, stating, "Flanagan was tasked with making a sequel to a film that stays loyal to a book that ignores the changes made in the first movie. That ain't easy. Different characters are in different places at the end of the book and film versions of The Shining, and Flanagan has to tie the two together. For example, King's original book ends with the explosion of the Overlook Hotel. We all know that Kubrick's The Shining does not. And while one can sometimes feel Flanagan struggling to satisfy both King and Kubrick fans when he really should be trusting his own vision, he's talented enough to pull off this difficult blend of legacies."[51] Simran Hans of The Guardian gave the film four out of five, noting "adapting Stephen King is one thing, writing a spiritual sequel to a Stanley Kubrick movie quite another. Director Mike Flanagan takes on King's 2013 follow-up novel to The Shining, but adjusts some details to ensure continuity with Kubrick's cult 1980 adaptation of the original book... The new material is fresher and considerably more fun."[52]
BBC's critic Nicholas Barber gave the film four out of five and stated, "Not many people will have come away from Stanley Kubrick's classic Stephen King adaptation, The Shining, with a burning desire to know what happened to the boy in the story. He was one of the film's least engaging characters, ranking somewhere between the ghostly twins and the withered hag in the bathtub. But Doctor Sleep, a belated sequel to The Shining, wants viewers to care about the boy's fate – and, surprisingly, it succeeds. Credible in its characterisation, rich in mythological detail, and touchingly sincere in its treatment of alcoholism and trauma, the film is impressive in all sorts of ways. But its greatest achievement is that it makes The Shining seem like a prequel – a tantalising glimpse of a richer and more substantial narrative."[53] Chris Hewitt of Empire gave the film three out of five and noted, "Working off source material that is very different from its predecessor, anyone expecting a straightforward Shining sequel will be disappointed. This isn't a gruelling exercise in pure horror. It's odder and more contemplative, but worth checking in."[54] Kyle Smith of National Review wrote "Though Kubrick's adaptation and The Shawshank Redemption are the only films made from King's stories that achieved greatness, nearly everything he writes contains at least one brilliantly twisted element, and Doctor Sleep has lots of them. It's a shame that more top-tier directors haven't chosen to dig around in the capacious mines of King's imagination."[55]
Peter Travers of Rolling Stone gave the film three out of five, adding, "Doctor Sleep relies way too much on borrowed inspiration and eventually runs out of — pardon the word — steam. But this flawed hybrid of King and Kubrick still has the stuff to keep you up nights."[56] Angelica Jade Bastién of Vulture wrote "The film aims in its closing moments to be bittersweet yet hopeful. Instead, it has an unintended, even dour messaging about the cost of escaping your past and whether that's even possible in life. Doctor Sleep could probably never fully stand on its own, and perhaps it's not meant to. It's a horror film with messy pleasures if you're able to meet it on its own level."[57] Todd McCarthy of The Hollywood Reporter stated, "It doesn't have Jack Nicholson, Stanley Kubrick or even much of the Overlook Hotel, but Rebecca Ferguson and other good actors provide some shine of their own in Doctor Sleep, a drawn-out and seldom pulse-quickening follow-up to The Shining that still has enough going on to forestall any audience slumber. The vast army of Stephen King fans alone ensures a good commercial launch for this well-appointed Warner Bros. release, which in terms of scares and jolts is pretty mild by contemporary horror film standards."[58]
Tim Grierson of Screen Daily commented, "For a horror director, Flanagan is particularly adept with actors, concerned more about character arcs than cheap frights. That's why Doctor Sleep's uninspired plotting feels even more disappointing. Flanagan gives us such a sense of these people — their demons, their fears, their resilience — that it's a shame that the twists and turns aren't as compelling. Not everyone will make it out alive from the Overlook, but Flanagan brings enough smarts and soul to the flawed, fascinating Doctor Sleep that he manages to escape The Shining's shadow mostly unscathed."[59] Michael O'Sullivan of The Washington Post gave the film two stars out of four and wrote "Part homage to Kubrick's moody atmospherics, and part hyper-literal superhero story, Doctor Sleep is stylish, engrossing, at times frustratingly illogical and, ultimately less than profoundly unsettling... Doctor Sleep will by no means make you drowsy, but it won't keep anyone up at night either."[60] Austin Collins of Vanity Fair added "Doctor Sleep is a horror movie, but what's immediately striking is its sudden breadth, it's humble resistance to the usual perils and thrills of blockbuster. It's refreshing. This is a story that feels larger than it is, in part because this story takes the shine and does something with it, reveals it for the tenuous, impermanent, vulnerable force that it is."[61] Michael Roffman of Consequence of Sound mentioned "Doctor Sleep shouldn't work. Even now, the idea of making a big-budget sequel to arguably the greatest horror film of all time reads like a disaster on paper. Yet, to our surprise, Flanagan's execution warrants its existence."[62]
Tom Philip of GQ wrote "Doctor Sleep is perhaps too reverent of Kubrick's forbearer, repeating several key set pieces and sequences, reintroducing all the classic ghosts, and, yes, that bartender is back and let's just say he has a... new look, one meant specifically to mess with Danny. The inevitable ghostly cameo should have extended to the hotel itself. Instead, we spend a good half an hour-plus in there to close out the film. And while Flanagan delivers an ending that sort of respects King's book and rhymes with The Shining's filmed conclusion, it all feels quite forced. At its heart, this is a film about a son rejecting his destiny to become his ghoulish father and forge his own path. It's a shame Doctor Sleep doesn't have the guts to do the same."[63] Johnny Oleksinski of New York Post gave the film three out of four and said, "The movie skillfully builds to the tense final sequence, in which writer/director Mike Flanagan has re-created the hotel just as it was in the 1980 film. He even films it in Kubrick's cavernous, blinding manner."[64]
David Sims of The Atlantic said, "Flanagan clearly understands how Kubrick's adaptation eclipsed King's attachment to the original story and became entrenched in the broader culture. But this movie is still just a very good facsimile. Doctor Sleep is wonderfully reverent when it comes to Kubrick's film, but that means it can't escape The Shining's shadow, no matter how much King might have wanted it to."[65] Eric Kohn of IndieWire gave the film a C+ grade, commenting, "... Doctor Sleep shows considerable effort to ingratiate itself to discerning cinephiles, from the moody Newton Brothers score to cinematographer Michael Fimognari's dark blue nighttime palette; as a whole, the movie conjures an eerie and wondrous atmosphere that blends abject terror with a somber, mournful quality unique to Flanagan's oeuvre. But his pandering to dueling source material results in a jagged puzzle beneath both of their standards".[66] Alison Foreman of Mashable stated, "Doctor Sleep could have tried to be The Shining's sequel, an intimidated son yearning to be like his father. Instead, it's entirely new... Doctor Sleep isn't The Shining, but it does shine."[67] Justin Chang of Los Angeles Times wrote, "You can't blame Flanagan for fetishizing the visual iconography of Kubrick's movie, for plunging back into his funhouse of horrors like the proverbial kid in a candy store. But the effect can't help but fundamentally alter the tone and intent of Doctor Sleep, briefly transforming a richly disturbing fantasy into an extravagant act of fan service. It taps into the minutiae of Kubrick's masterwork without fully teasing out its mystery."[68]

Garry Gillard | reviews | New: 28 February, 2020 | Now: 4 March, 2020