Doctor Sleep (2019)
I’m a huge Stephen King Fan boy, and whilst I might not have read all his recent books, I have read pretty much everything he’s done up until around the mid noughties. The fact is that my days are getting filled up pretty quickly and I just don’t do as much reading as I’d like to these days! But one of the books I went out of my way to read was King’s sequel to The Shining, Doctor Sleep. Both myself and my better half Trish grabbed copies of the novel, all shaking with the excitement and hype, and raced through it to see who could finish it first (she did..of course!)! We were both blown away at the “New adventures of Danny Torrance”. We were with Danny as Mrs. Massey made an unexpected bathroom visits, resulting a lot of peeing in sinks! We coward next to him, in the dimly lit room of Eleanor Ouellette, as an old long dead friend made a finally appearance. We cheered Danny on as he confronted the True Knot on the burnt out ashes of the Overlook Hotel. And yes, we were with him when he looked back at the Viewing Platform to spot a friendly face. Yes, i think it’s safe to say, that after the journey we went on with Daniel Anthony Torrance (some folks just call him Doc), Doctor Sleep certainly left a lasting impression on us.
It was not until this year that we actually revisited King’s novel; in audiobook format (yes time is short, but our ears are always open) and we found a new respect for the book. Having both lost our fathers in recent years, Danny’s Journey brought on new meaning, because suddenly, we both understood what it was like to lose a farther. And whilst we did not lose ours to haunted hotel, Danny’s action in later years were more understandable. And if you’re wondering why I’m banging on about all this rather than just getting on with the review, there is a reason. Doctor Sleep is a powerful novel. It’s dark, it’s violent and it’s damn right scary, because in a way we are all Danny Torrance, a man that is haunted by his past, but unable to stop making the same mistakes his parents did. Even with the death of a parent, it’s easy to fall into the traps that they made, easy to ignore the lessons… but scarier still.. easier to forget those mistakes. Whether through alcohol, drugs or just through stubbornness. And if there is a point to make here, it’s that Mike Flanagan bastardised version of Doctor Sleep forgets to remember its own father, and that’s kinda ironic.
It must have been a hard sell over at Warner Bros, when folks first started to throw around ideas on how to adapt King’s novel. King left the stage in a very different place indeed, whilst Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film ended with much more blood on the floor. Poor Dick Hallorann, that being of the Scatman Crothers flavour, ended up on the sharp side of an axe, whilst Danny and Wendy manage to escape on Dicks snow cat. King left our favorite psychic chef very much alive, if not a few teeth shy thanks to Jacks croquet mallet. Hallorann whisked both Danny and Wendy away, as the Overlook’s neglected boiler exploded and burnt the place (and Jack) to ashes. With Halloran still in the land of the living, and the Hotel nothing but rubble, it would be a hard sell to audience who knew nothing but mazes, twins and Jack Nicholson’s crazy grin. But somehow, Flanagan convinced the studio that he knew just how to handle the new film.
Basically, Flanagan cut the movie in two. The first three quarters of Doctor Sleep is all King. Apart from the glaring issue of Halloran’s presence, lightly solved with a bit of ghostly to-do of actor Carl Lumbly, the rest is fresh off the ink of our favorite horror writer. There are differences; none I wish to dwell on just now, but overall the shape and structure is the same. Things change course when the True Knot try to take Abra. There is a failed abduction (two in fact), and Crow Daddy does indeed manage to capture the young girl, but not all the Knot are killed this early on. Abra convinces Rose the Hat to meet at the remains of the Overlook Hotel and both parties plan on getting the jump on one another. Look, it’s complicated and completely different to Flanagan final third act.
It’s at the turn of the final half hour, that Flanagan turns to Kubrick’s film for inspiration, and for me, this is where things start to go wrong. There’s way too much nostalgia for the 1990 film, with not only sets and music scores being ripped right out of the cinematic grave of Kubrick’s masterpiece, but Cinematographer Michael Fimognari even goes as far as recreating shot by shot sequences from The Shining. Don’t get me wrong, this shit is fucking cool, but it’s just as cool as Ready Player one’s homage to The Shining. Does it fit into the world that King has created? No, not really. We seemingly leave the film for 15 minutes, as we take a casual jaunt round memory lane and try to capture that genie in a bottle, whilst the story takes a snooze in the cold snow outside. Abra seemingly forgotten.
These scenes could have worked, and it’s here that production REALLY missed a trick. In an age of CGI wizardry, where long dead actors are being brought back for films, and older actors are de-aged, it’s curious that Flanagan chose to use a different actor to play Jack Torrance, instead of bringing back Jack Nicholson for one more turn in his most memorable role. In the book, it’s hinted that Jack saves Danny from Rose the Hat. A wind blows rose over the side of the viewing platform, and she falls to her death. When Danny turns back for one last look at the hotel, he spots a familiar face looking down from the platform. Whilst there are many bad spirits caught inside that old building, there was at least one that redeemed himself but the end of Doctor Sleep. Jack Torrance raises a hand to his son and is gone the next beat. I was really, really, REALLY looking forward to having this redemption for Jack in the film. I was hoping for a cool reveal of Jack Nicholson looking down at Danny, holding his hand up in gesture of kindness to his son, but that’s is not what we got.
What Flanagan created instead was a pointless scene, where the audience are kind of surprised at Jack Torrance’s appearance, but a little sad that it’s not Nicholson. It’s a scene where Jack smashes a glass and belittles his son. It’s a scene that stops the clocks and breaks the fourth wall. It’s a scene that bastardised both King and Kubrick’s vision. It’s a scene that irreversibly soils Kubrick’s Jack, as it turns out that the man that would “do anything” for his son, is someone that views his family as a burden and a nuisance. If this was all that Flanagan took from the Shining, then he missed the point.
And then we get THAT ending. Flanagan has grabbed the last few chapters of The Shinning and superimposed them on top of Doctor Sleep, even down to the dialogue and it just feels disjointed. Danny sacrifices himself and we are never quite sure why, as the film never really led us down the that road. It appears to be a snap decision just to stay put in the boiler room, when he had plenty of time to leave. His sacrifice is kind of hollow, and it’s an awful ending.
There are some good points I’d like to point out. King’s novel pretty much left everyone alive. Well, everyone apart from the true knot. It was not until I’d watched the film that I realised that there were no real consequences for Danny in the novel. He defeated the bad guys, saved the girl and came out smelling of roses. I like that there were consequences here in the film. Billy Freeman and Dave Stone both die trying to save young Abra, and their deaths make sense. They are of course regrettable, but at least they have meaning.
The casting is also fantastic. Rebecca Ferguson is the best thing here, with a truly sensational turn as Rose the Hat. Her presence is alluring yet deadly, and despite a simple flaw in her character design (that hat is NOT cocked to one side…bad Rose…bad ROSE!) she’s managed to grab King’s character straight from the pages of the book, even slipping in a Irish twang here and there for good measure. Ewan McGregor is good, but I think maybe a little miscast. He plays many things well, but a down on his luck acholic he’s not. At least I did not feel it. Surprising for an actor that made his bread and butter on a role that depicted an addict.
The music is beautiful and chilling, and the cinematography is wonderful. The entire film is a genuinely wonderful experience and I believe that fans of Kubrick’s The Shinning may just well love this film to bits. But as a fan of the book, the film just feels too disjointed for me. If there was a message here, it’s lost and hungry, much like the spirits of the Overlook Hotel. I wanted to love this, and I do in part, but the ending soiled the film for me. As Stephen King is so fond of writing, Mike Flanagan “forgot the face of his father”, or to put it more bluntly, he forgot the point of Kings’ epic novel, and by proxy, the book that shares the films name.
“Doc,” Jack Torrance said. “Run away. Quick. And remember how much I love you.” “No,” Danny said. “Oh Danny, for God’s sake—” “No,” Danny said. He took one of his father’s bloody hands and kissed it. “It’s almost over.”
― Stephen King, The Shining
Reviewed by Luke
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