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New Release Review - DOCTOR SLEEP

doctor sleep review
An adult Danny Torrance and a teenage girl use their psychic gifts to battle a centuries old menace.

Review by Eric Hillis

Directed by: Mike Flanagan

Starring: Rebecca Ferguson, Ewan McGregor, Carel Struycken, Jacob Tremblay, Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Alex Essoe, Kyliegh Curran

doctor sleep poster




An old trick cult filmmaker Roger Corman would often employ involved shooting two movies on the same set by rushing the shoot of the first movie and then knocking out a quickie while he still had access to the sets. If he had a castle set for seven days he might shoot one movie for five days and another for the remaining two days. The movie shot over five days would usually turn out pretty great, but its companion was more often a mess, made for the most cynical reasons imaginable. Watching Doctor Sleep, an adaptation of Stephen King's 2013 sequel of sorts to The Shining, I couldn't help but think of Corman's practice when the iconic Overlook Hotel made its appearance. If Stanley Kubrick's 1980 movie is the cult classic Corman shot in five days, Doctor Sleep is the cynical cash grab knocked out over the following weekend.

Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) is now a troubled adult, still haunted by his childhood experience in the Overlook, and still visited by Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly taking the place of Scatman Crothers). You can tell Danny is troubled because he wakes up hungover next to a naked stranger. Only in American movies is this used to signify hitting rock bottom. In Europe we call this "winning at life."

doctor sleep review


Deciding to get his act together, Danny travels to a small New England town, where he is helped get on his feet by some kindly locals. He's set up with a job as an orderly at a hospice, where he employs his psychic "shine" gifts to comfort terminal patients as they exit this world for whatever lies beyond. He also communicates through a blackboard in his lodging room with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a tween who shares his shine.

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Meanwhile, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, decked out like the fifth member of 4 Non Blondes), a centuries old similarly gifted psychic, leads a cult of followers who travel the US seeking out those who possess "the shine," before deciding whether to take them under their wing or feed on their "steam" (this nonsense sounds even worse when you write it down). Basically, Rose and friends are the vampires from Near Dark, but a lot more boring.

doctor sleep review


When Rose learns of Abra, she sets out to track down the kid, and so Danny and Abra team up to use their powers to end Rose's reign of terror. The movie makes up Rose's powers on the fly, and we never get any real sense that she poses a genuine threat to Danny and Abra, who seem to possess far more powerful weapons in their psychic bag of tricks. At one point Torrance mentions how Rose and her clan are "rich and connected," yet the film never backs this up. If they are indeed rich and connected, why are they roaming around like gypsies in camper vans?

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Thanks largely to a committed and sympathetic performance from McGregor, and Ferguson's vampy-campy scenery chewing, Doctor Sleep keeps you engaged for its first half, at least until you realise the story isn't going anywhere particularly interesting, at which point 'Doctor Snooze' becomes a more apt title. The film, and presumably King's source novel, doesn't have an original idea in its head, and exists solely to remind us of a beloved horror classic (one I've admittedly always struggled with). It gives us a newfound appreciation for Kubrick's filmmaking, as in the hands of director Mike Flanagan, Doctor Sleep looks like a TV movie by comparison. But it also serves to make Kubrick's film retroactively less scary, for reasons I won't get into here for fear of spoiler accusations.

doctor sleep review


It may be a sequel (can we call it that or is there some trendy new label for this sort of thing?) to The Shining, but Doctor Sleep has more in common with the likes of Firestarter and The Dead Zone, King's other tales of psychics battling demons. Remove it from the King universe and it begins to look a lot like a second rate X-Men movie, with McGregor and Ferguson as a substitute Professor X and Magneto, two sides of a psychic coin with differing views on how to exist in our world. Low on scares, it's closer to the superhero format than the horror genre, particularly in its slam bang, bish bosh climax.

Take away the odd stab of strings from The Shining's soundtrack and you would easily forget that Doctor Sleep has any connection with its predecessor, that is until the inevitable return to the Overlook. There's something incredibly cynical about the whole venture, as though it began life as an original story before King shoehorned references to one of his most celebrated works into the narrative. If the Overlook sequence of Ready Player One made you groan, get ready for Doctor Sleep's bloated, silly and decidedly non-scary climax. It's all a bit like visiting that ghost train you rode as a kid, only to find it's now decrepit and run down. The magic you once revelled in is long gone. If you're a fan of The Shining, you might want to Overlook this one.

Doctor Sleep is in UK/ROI cinemas October 31st.




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