Doctor Sleep **1/2
One Liner Review:
True to the spirit of The Shining, this movie is pretty good for the most part, but it’s also too long and you definitely feel it by the end.
Doctor Sleep is the follow up film to the Shining. It’s the sequel made forty years later. Whenever that happens, that a sequel is made so many decades after the original film, it doesn’t quite feel real. It doesn’t feel like a real sequel, but more like a cash grab based on how popular the original property has become over time. Let’s put it this way, if not a single member of the original cast is returning, it hardly feels like a sequel. That being said, this movie is based on a book by the original writer. That means that writer Stephen King, who wrote the Shining all those years ago, really did write this book just recently. So it’s not exactly the movie’s fault that it took so long to turn out a sequel… it’s King’s. And one could make the argument that had King turned out this book decades ago, than we would have gotten the movie decades ago as well. I suppose that argument helps a little, but something about this whole thing just doesn’t feel right.
The director, and everyone involved are well aware of the massive time gap between the two films, and so they try to do everything imaginable to remind us of that first movie, and make us feel like we are back in that world. This includes using the exact same music and background sound track (something that seems so obvious, and yet it never ceases to amaze me how many movies don’t do this – I’m looking at you Terminator franchise.) It also includes having as many characters from the first movie pop up in this sequel as they can. All played by new actors of course.
Now consider that the first movie took place almost entirely in and around a hotel. And it was at a time when the hotel was deserted. That means there were a very limited amount of characters. There was the Torrance family, Jack (Jack Nicholson,) his wife, Wendy, and their son, Danny. And then there were all of the different ghosts, who looked like people – which is a good thing, because it gave them personality. We’re talking about the former caretaker / bartender and his twin daughters, as well as the woman in the bathtub. Finally, there’s the older black chef, Dick Halloran, who worked at the hotel and recognized the gift inside of young Danny. Well, every single one of these characters makes a cameo here. And that’s a very good thing. The more this movie feels like the original film, the better.
But aside from getting the tone and cameos right, there are definitely some major problems. For one, the movie is way too long. At two and a half hours, you’re stretching how much the audience will care to stay invested and continue being interested. The second problem goes with the first. It’s that the Overlook Hotel isn’t brought in until the final act. Let’s say the final half an hour or so. Now, this is the part we’ve all been waiting for, and are so excited about. Yet because it comes after a solid two hours of waiting for it and getting tired, by the time it arrives, it doesn’t feel nearly as exciting as it should. There are two schools of thought to this. The first is that absence makes the heart grow fonder, and the more they drag it out before showing us the hotel, the more we will crave going back there. The other theory is that you want to keep the audience excited the whole way through and if that means giving them what they want earlier rather than later, then so be it. I agree with the second theory.
The result of what they do here, dragging the movie out until they finally give us the hotel is that the hotel sequence is actually the worst part of the film. It just seems to go on and on and on. And there’s no question that what’s really happening is not that the hotel sequence is so bad, it’s just that we are tired. They pushed us to the brink of what we could take and then they kept on pushing. This is the part that we’ve been waiting for, the part that should be the most exciting in the movie, and instead of benga’s great as it should be, it ends up being the weakest part of the movie. In fact, most of the movie is pretty good, and it’s only the ending that kind of falls apart. How ironic.
Aside from the time being a major factor, and being the main reason why the ending at the hotel doesn’t work as well as it should, the movie generally is pretty solid. It’s about a group of spiritual otherworldly beings who band together, murder children, and then keep their essence trapped in canisters. Every once in a while, they open one of the canisters and the essence of the person seeps out, like smoke. The creatures then all gather around and breath it in, and supposedly it makes them all stay the age they are. At the start of the movie, we meet one little girl who wanders away from her family, in the woods, and comes upon these creatures. She meets their leader, Rose, (Rebecca Fergusson,) and is seduced into believing that Rose does magic and is a kind person. That’s when the others close in on her.
But there’s another little girl in the movie, named Abra, who has “the Shining,” or the ability to see things that are going on in other parts of the world. She sees what these creatures are doing and she contacts Dan (Danny Torrance, the son from the original,) telepathically. Dan is played by Ewan McGreggor here, and he is a bit of a recluse, drinking his way to an early grave, sleeping with random hookups he meets for one night stands, and doing whatever drugs come his way. He wanders into a quiet town to try to escape his life, and ends up meeting a nice man who offers to help him, named Billy (played by Cliff Curtis.)Billy gets Dan a place to stay and a job. He also gets Dan into an AA program, where he meets a doctor who offers him an even better job. Soon Dan is working at a hospital, helping elderly people who are about to die. He talks to them about just going to sleep, and that’s how he gets the nickname Doctor Sleep.
But Dan is haunted by visions from the past. Halloran comes back to talk to him, and tells him to talk to Abra, who keeps trying to contact him. The way she does this is by writing messages on the giant blackboard wall that is in the room where Dan is staying. At first the messages are all friendly, saying things like “hello,” and “morning,” but when a boy gets kidnapped and murdered by the group of creatures, and Abra sees it all through visions, she writes murder. And just like in the original film, we read it backwards through a mirror, so that it reads as “redrum.”
Most of the movie is actually about this situation. A solid two hours is devoted to the creatures who kill kids and steal their essence, and Abra seeing them and getting in touch with Dan. The rest of that time is spent on Dan getting his life together. And all of that is important. What is not nearly as important is spending time with one of the followers, a fifteen year old girl who tricks older men who have fetishes for young girls into meeting with her. Then she puts them to sleep and carves up their faces. And this all happens before she meet Ruth and joins the group. In a movie that is already too long, it’s scenes like this that could have easily been cut.
The movie definitely holds our attention until the end. It does capture the same tone as the Shining, which is quite an accomplishment. Even still, the story. here where there is a clearly a group of villains and then a couple of heroes who are fighting them is miles away from what the Shining was, with it’s story about being stuck in a hotel and eventually going crazy. This goes back to what Stephen King wrote for his sequel, more than it does the movie, (meaning it’s not the movie’s fault,) but perhaps a better sequel would have taken place entirely in the hotel. Not that Dan became the caretaker or anything like that, but just that he went back to the abandoned location to set the ghosts straight and lock them away for good. A sequel set entirely in the hotel might have really captured the same feel as the first film. Here, by the time we actually get to the hotel, we have lost patience. And yes, the movie does make all the right moves once we reach the hotel, including having Dan sit at the bar in the ballroom and get poured a drink by the bartender. If only this came earlier on in the movie, it would have had such a better impact.