Doctor Sleep (2019) Movie Review
Since you already sat through an almost 3-hour movie based on an 80s Stephen King novel back in September, it stands to reason you’d be more than willing to sit through another almost 3-hour movie based on the sequel to an 80s Stephen King novel.
Why not? You’re already mainlining 80s nostalgia and you can only watch Joker so many times. You could do worse than watch the sequel to a movie your parents/horror aficionados swear by to which you’ve seen countless memes even though you’re not really sure of the movie the memes are referencing.
How much worse? Well, Countdown and that Maleficent sequel somehow made in into theaters.
Based on its pedigree, at the very least you can be sure that Doctor Sleep is competently made. Writer/director Mike Flanagan has been the go-to guy for smart, anti-Blumhouse horror (his solid adaptation of King’s Gerald’s Game, his wonderful adaptation of The Haunting of Hill House, the excellent Hush), even if they do just end up on Netflix.
I know. You’re going to have to leave the house to see Doctor Sleep, but even if you’re just a casual fan of The Shining, you’ll enjoy this sequel or be haunted by an old naked woman in a bathtub.
Doctor Sleep opens a short period of time after the closing moments of The Shining. We’re still in the 80s, because everyone creams themselves over the 80s.
Little Danny Torrance (Roger Dale Floyd subbing in for Danny Lloyd- the other stand-ins were Manny Boyd and Granny Freud) is still being haunted by the things he’s seen in the Overlook and the fact that his drunk dad tried to kill him and his mother Wendy (Starry Eyes’ Alex Essoe, so much less annoying than Shelley Duvall).
Thank goodness Danny’s got a Magical Negro to help him when the going gets tough. Danny’s ice-cream serving Magic Negro Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly subbing in for the late Scatman Crothers) is force-ghosted to help Danny with those pesky malignant spirits from the Overlook.
Problem solved. Nothing bad will happen to Danny ever again.
Still in the 80s, we see a little girl picking flowers. I’d look up her actor name or her character name but it would be pointless since this little girl will be dead by the end of the scene. Also picking flowers is a woman named Rose the Hat (Mission Impossible Fallout’s Rebecca Ferguson). She’s called Rose the Hat because her name is Rose and she wears a hat. Rose is interested in little flower girl, but not in an R Kelly or Roy Moore sort of way. Rose wants what’s inside the girl, and that’s a whole lot of shine. Future dead girl has what Danny and a handful of other special people have. What Danny calls the Shine, Rose calls “steam”.
Rose and her creepy cult friends the True Knot live on the steam excreted from dying shining kids (for reasons explained, the younger the better). They’ve lived for a very long time on other people’s steam. No matter what it takes, no matter who they kill, their mission (impossible?) is to get all the steam in the world.
But the world is running out of steam and the True Knot is terrified for the first time in centuries. Where in the next 2 hours and 10 minutes of running time are they going find someone that shines?
Doctor Sleep flash forwards to 2011…
Dan Torrance (Ewan MacGregor, subbing in for James McAvoy) is still having trouble keeping the demons (imagined and real) at bay. He’s become a full-blown alcoholic like his father because nothing bad ever happened because people drank too much.
He’s a recreational drinker. He can stop whenever he wants.
Nope. He’s Brett Kavanaugh and will soon be discovering Lady Gaga in a drag bar.
Before Dan steals money from a coke-sorting one night stand with a baby, it’s a good thing that he has his own personal Magic Negro to help him when trouble arises. Dick Halloran dispenses some wise wisdom and now Dan is on the run again.
From whom? Himself. That’s deep.
Dan hitchhikes and buses to a random town. He finds a genuine friend Billy (Cliff Curtis) who helps him get on the straight and narrow.
It’s 8 years later, and Ewan MacGregor’s Fargo accent is still kind of off…
Dan joins AA. He stars in substandard Star Wars prequels. He’s been working as an orderly in a hospice. He uses his shine to help the elderly transition into death (along with a prescient cat) and is affectionately known as Doctor Sleep.
It’s at the hospital that Dan’s Magical Negro Dick shows up one final time. But not to dispense homespun wisdom, but to dispense some necessary exposition. It turns out that there’s a little girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) who shines and shines very bright. Dick knows that some evil beings want her for her shine, and that Dan is the only one that can protect her.
It’s time for Dan to be the Magical Negro now…
What Works With Doctor Sleep
- Rebecca Ferguson doesn’t steal scenes as Rose the Hat, she dominates them in what could be an Oscar-nominated performance in a weak year. Every line is stated with an Eartha Kitt purr that might be funny if it weren’t so unsettling. Since Mission Impossible Rogue Nation put her on the map, Ferguson has been wasted in mostly forgettable tripe (The Snowman, The Greatest Showman, Men in Black International, The Girl on the Train, other movies that with man/girl in the title). All the best scenes in Doctor Sleep usually have Rose as its center. There are more than a couple of moments when you wish the movie were more about Rose than the more predictable Danny-Abra storyline.
- As you might expect, the final act is a love letter to the original Shining. Not just nostalgia porn like in Ready Player One, writer/director Flanagan uses the viewer’s presumed affection for the Kubrick classic to throw the audience more than a couple of curves, even if it differs from King’s original text. If Doctor Sleep was just middling for the first two acts, expect another gear in everyone’s favorite hotel.
- Kudos to production designer Maher Ahmad and casting directors Anne McCarthy/Kellie Roy for nailing all the Shining shout-outs. Though it’s been almost 40 years, you feel like you haven’t missed a beat.
What Doesn't Work With Doctor Sleep
- As in the source material, Dan Torrance is the least interesting character in his own story. It’s not really his fault that Dan is the straight man and that the character is relatively basic. MacGregor does the best he can with what little relative material he has to work with. Almost every supporting character in Sleep feels more urgent, feels more alive. Dan Torrance just feels…there. You’re glad MacGregor isn’t sleeping through this part, though you get where he could have.
Not the Shining movie you’d expect, but one you’d enjoy nonetheless. A worthy sequel to one of the most loved horror movies (though not by King) of all time.
What Bothers You Most About This Hotel?
Buy Doctor Sleep Today! Danny Torrance Will Thank You!
© 2019 Noel Penaflor