Movie Review – Doctor Sleep
Editor’s note: The views and opinions expressed in this review are solely those of Marlon Wallace and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of WBOC.
In my review of the recent Harriet, I explained how the story was told as if it were a comic-book or super-hero movie. There has been discussions since the film Joker about how mainstream stories have to be told in the vein of comic-book and super-hero stories. It’s incredible how much comic-book and super-hero culture has infected all of cinema and even television. It perhaps has even infected the literary world. This film is based on a 2013 novel by Stephen King, which is the sequel to King’s famous 1977 book. This film, therefore, is a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), one of the most famous horror films of all time. However, this film, written and directed by Mike Flanagan (Ouija: Origin of Evil and Oculus), leaves the horror realm and moves more into the super-hero zone. It’s a dark and twisted, super-hero zone, much like Joker. One could also dismiss my analogy by saying that this film has done what other horror franchises have done like Halloween or A Nightmare on Elm Street in their later sequels when those movies gave its protagonists super-powers and the excitements come not in the scares of the situations but rather in the showdowns where we see the super-powered people battle or confront each other.
Flanagan doesn’t skimp on the horror or horrific moments though. This film is essentially about a gang of serial killers who target children. One scene in particular depicts them brutally murdering a child, a boy who’s probably only 11 or 12. It’s a scene that is in fact gruesome and bloody. What makes it particularly difficult to watch is because it’s a scene that goes for a long time where this child is stabbed multiple times and it’s shot and performed in such a way that we feel every stab the boy endures, helpless to stop it. I mention this scene though, as not just a trigger warning to parents, but also because it’s a scene that sets up what’s a clear metaphor to be extrapolated that probably originates from Stephen King and his personal struggles.
Ewan McGregor (Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace and Trainspotting) stars as Danny Torrance, the grown-up version of the little boy we met in The Shining. Danny and his mother survived being murdered in the Overlook Hotel in Colorado after it was revealed various ghosts or evil spirits haunted the hotel and drove Danny’s father insane. Danny was able to survive because he had a super-power called the “shining.” It was basically a psychic power that allowed him to see and interact with those ghosts and spirits. It also gave him other abilities. He was so traumatized by what happened at the hotel that he suppressed those abilities. Thirty years later, he has become like his father, meaning an alcoholic and an isolated person for the most part.
Things change for him when he moves to New Hampshire where he meets another person who has the “shining.” While the idea was established in the 1980 film that other people have the shining, this film takes that idea and runs with it. It’s akin to something like X-Men (2000) where there’s this world where people with super-powers exist all over. Here, a group of them call themselves the True Knot. Not only do each of them have the shining, but they’ve discovered that if they kill someone who also has the shining, that dying person will release a steam on which they can feed. Feeding off dying people with the shining gives the True Knot perpetual youth and immortality. They’re like vampires in that regard. When they do feed, it does look like junkies getting a fix or alcoholics taking a drink. This is where the metaphor arrives about King’s personal struggles. King was revealed to be an alcoholic and drug addict in his real life.
Kyliegh Curran in what is essentially her feature debut co-stars as Abra Stone, a 13- or 14-year-old, biracial girl. She lives in New Hampshire. If this were the X-Men, she would be the equivalent to Jean Grey who was one of the most powerful of all the super-heroes. Like Jean Grey, Abra has telepathic and telekinetic powers. She can enter people’s minds and she can also move objects with her mind. She discovers that she has this power when she’s younger like during her fifth or sixth birthday party. She simply thinks she’s magic. When Danny moves to her town, she discovers who he is, which causes her to search for other people like them and it’s Abra who finds the True Knot. It’s her who decides to fight and stop them.
However, it’s Danny who is reluctant to do so. He doesn’t want to fight. He wants to keep his head down and hide. He does so because of his trauma and the demons, both figurative and literal, that he wants to avoid and virtually lock away. Confronting the True Knot would involve him having to confront that trauma and those demons all over again. Those demons include his alcoholism, as well as a lot of other ghosts. This film is about him finally opening the boxes and letting those ghosts out, so that Danny can face them once and for all.
Of course, the nostalgia regarding Kubrick’s The Shining is in full force. Yet, that nostalgia is only at the top and bottom of this film. The nostalgia isn’t as incessant as we’ve seen nostalgia get, such as in recent properties like Netflix’s Stranger Things or other King adaptations like It (2017). Admittedly, the child murder in this film is more gruesome and terrifying than anything in that aforementioned 2017 flick and It: Chapter Two (2019). As such, I would probably say that this is the best adaptation of a King book that I’ve seen in a long while.
Rated R for disturbing content, bloody images, language, nudity and drug use.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 31 mins.