DOCTOR SLEEP (11/8/2019)
Director: Mike Flanagan
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran
My Rating: 9/10
Rotten Tomatometer: 76% Certified Fresh
PLOT: Nearly forty years after the events of “The Shining”, an adult Danny Torrance makes contact with someone else who can “shine”, and is soon drawn into a war with a band of people who hunt gifted people like himself.
If you had asked me a year ago to list movies that will never get a sequel, Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 adaptation of “The Shining” would have been near the top of that list. As adaptations go, it has its share of fans and detractors, but as a stand-alone horror movie, it’s a stone-cold masterpiece that has never been equaled. When I heard that they were actually making a sequel based on Stephen King’s own sequel to “The Shining”, I was extremely skeptical. The last time someone made a follow-up to a Kubrick film was “2010” (1984), and while that film was a decent sci-fi flick, it didn’t come close to the spectacle of Kubrick’s “2001: A Space Odyssey” (1968). So my expectations were, as they say, tempered.
After watching “Doctor Sleep” earlier tonight, I can say, unequivocally, that while the film is not perfect, I could not have asked for a better sequel to “The Shining.” It’s a treasure trove for fans of the original, and also for fans of the extended universe that King has created for his novels, starting with the “Dark Tower” series forward. (For THOSE particular fans, you’ll be glad to see a very specific two-digit number make a conspicuous appearance…)
To begin with, the story is classic King. Danny Torrance has grown into a pretty irresponsible adult with a drinking problem, marking an unfortunate parallel with his father, Jack. He hits bottom and takes up residence in a sleepy New Jersey town, joins AA, and works as an orderly at a local hospice. Up to now, he has done everything in his power to keep his “shine” in check, but he finds a pragmatic use for his gift working with terminal patients, with the help of an inscrutable cat who can sniff out which patient is going to die next.
Eventually he comes into contact with a young girl named Abra, who lives in another part of New Jersey, but who can “shine” like he can. And then there’s this nomadic group of people who are apparently hunting down other people with the “shine” for their own nefarious purposes.
It all wraps and weaves into a thrilling tale that skillfully retains the feel of Kubrick’s film. “Doctor Sleep” works on its own merits, but the more you know about “The Shining”, the more thoroughly you’ll enjoy this new film. Sharp-eyed cinephiles will be amazed at how many times, and in how many different ways, Kubrick’s style is echoed and referenced in this sequel. These include liberal use of fade transitions, lots of static shots, Steadicam shots, use of natural lighting, those shots with the axe (!), even the aspect ratio that the film was shot in. I got a giddy little swoop every time I saw how carefully the director, Mike Flanagan, was working the master’s craft into his film. It was like watching a very subtle Kubrickian “Ready Player One.” And it never comes off as plagiarism…it’s definitely homage, not theft.
(I also liked the “message” of the film. I don’t want to give too much away, but it boils down to not hiding your light under a bushel. Be yourself. You do you, Boo-boo. Essentially.)
Another aspect I really enjoyed was how the movie doesn’t rush through anything. It’s two-and-a-half hours long, longer than average these days, which is yet another echo of “The Shining.” When it works, that kind of pacing and running time gives the viewer the luxury of settling into the rhythm of the characters, makes them feel more like real people than cardboard cutouts hurrying from one milestone to the next. For example, there’s a scene where one character performs a kind of astral projection to find someone. There is a rather long series of shots showing her traveling through space that I can easily imagine would have been truncated in a lesser film. “Doctor Sleep”, instead, gives us a good long look at her journey, to really feel the distance involved. It’s quite a beautiful sequence, in fact.
All in all, before I get too wordy, I’ll reiterate how this was a much better movie than I anticipated, which is good, because I never believed it was necessary. It’s a relief to see that the continuation of Danny Torrance’s story has been handled in such a respectful manner, both towards the first film nearly 40 years ago and towards the viewers and fans. It’s not perfect (I could pick nits about one particular aspect of the finale if I wanted to), but it’s a worthy successor to Kubrick’s masterpiece. This belongs on the list of the best Stephen King adaptations along with “It”, “The Green Mile”, and “The Shawshank Redemption.”