Movie Review: Doctor Sleep (2019)

A friend from college once let me borrow his copy of The Shining TV miniseries, Stephen King’s response to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 rendition which ignored some aspects of the original novel. While Stanley Kubrick is one of my favorite filmmakers of all-time, the way he treated Shelly Duvall was pure garbage. As someone who aspires to make films, I take notes from incidents like those as examples of how not to treat actors. While, I think The Shining is one of the greatest horror films of all-time, King did not feel the same. 

Unfortunately, I found King’s miniseries incredibly lackluster and cheesy. By the time, I reached the last disc I was only watching because my friend told me he really loved the miniseries so I wanted to at least watch the entire thing before I made a final judgment call. 

I have read the original novel of The Shining, but have not read Doctor Sleep, which was adapted last year into a film starring Ewan McGregor as a grown-up Danny Torrance. Mike Flanagan’s script and directing attempts to bridge both The Shining film and novel together in a way that honors Kubrick’s and King’s vision at the same time. Flanagan succeeds for the most part in creating a worthwhile sequel. The scares were lacking compared to the original Shining, but I enjoy the humanity explored in Doctor Sleep, something that Stephen King felt was underwhelming in Kubrick’s version. 

I cared for Danny, I wanted to see him recover from his alcoholism and find a way to manage his “shine.” The film opens with flashbacks from The Shining (using lookalike actors) before Dick Halloran (originally played by Scatman Crothers, here played by Carl Lumby) gives Danny a way to get rid of the Overlook’s horrible ghosts who live on in his memory. Fast-forward years later and Dan is washed out on booze. He finds solace in a small New Hampshire town where a friendly stranger named Billy (Cliff Curtis) finds him a job and a place to stay. 

Meanwhile in the same town, a young girl named Abra has her own “shining,” but has to repress it to maintain peace with her parents. A traveling cult further away from our 2 leads known as “True Knot” senses the power Abra holds and tries to find her in order to feed on her shine or “steam,” as they call it. The True Knot cult are some sick folks. They are led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson in a complete 180 from her character in the Mission Impossible movies). Other members of the cult include Rose’s lover and right-hand man Crow Daddy (Zach McClarnon), and Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), a teenager with the ability to physically control people. 

True Knot proves to be a worthy adversary to Danny and Abra who eventually team up together to take them down. The cult’s work is cut out for them, however, due to Abra’s high shining power which is more powerful than Danny’s, present or past. 

It was great to see a Black girl at the center of this film. Kyliegh Curran, the child actor who played Abra did a phenomenal job. I am a sucker for seeing powerful Black characters in cinema and Abra really made Rose and company work to try and outsmart her. Also great was Ewan McGregor’s performance as Danny. He really conveyed a man with post-traumatic stress disorder convincingly as I was constantly rooting for him to overcome his inner demons. The rest of the cast did a great job as well. It was great to see Zach McClarnon because I loved him as Hanzee in season 2 of Fargo. Also, be on the lookout for a cameo from Jacob Tremblay. 

Unfortunately, Doctor Sleep didn’t chill me to the bone the way The Shining does every year when I watch it around Halloween. One particular moment involving True Knot feeding on some “steam” shook me, but was more disturbing than outright terrifying. A few elements from the original Shining reappear, but I don’t want to reveal anything more. 

Upon reading some of the differences between the novel and the movie, I was disappointed that the movie missed out on adding a few interesting plot developments. For example, in the novel Danny and Abra were actually uncle and niece, making their strong connection even more believable. Overall though, Doctor Sleep is a thrilling sequel that should appease fans of Stephen King’s novel and Stanley Kubrick’s film. The acting performances from McGregor (which is Golden Globe worthy in my opinion), Curran (also Golden Globe worthy to me), Ferguson, and McClarnon work well within a compelling story that honors the legacy of Kubrick and King.  

The Monster: The True Knot cult who feed on “steam” or “the shining” and attempt to search for Abra Stone in order to feed on her.

Monster Rating: 7/10 (the girl who control people adds an extra element of power to the group)

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