‘Doctor Sleep’ had us snoring

by Amanda Landwehr / Arts & Culture Editor

by Jules Banks / Features Editor

Photo courtesy of IMDB.

After the success of Stephen King’s 1977 novel “The Shining,” it felt natural for the patriarch of horror movies to follow up the tale with a sequel. The 531-page novel “Doctor Sleep” was released in 2013, earning a rating of 4.1 out of 5 on Goodreads Reviews and receiving widely positive reviews from fans and major booksellers worldwide. As a result, when a movie adaption for the book was announced to be released in October of 2019, fans of King and horror junkies alike were ready for yet another big-screen success. 

This is not, in my opinion, what audiences received. Instead, the “Doctor Sleep” film adaptation is a lifeless imitation of the 1980 horror classic, “The Shining,” directed by Stanley Kubrick and co-written with Diane Johnson. In comparison, “Doctor Sleep,” directed by Mike Flanagan, fell flat in all the ways that “The Shining” succeeded. Tripping on the heels of the newest “IT” movie, the build-up for this film created its very own problem. 

In complete honesty, I was more than willing to give “Doctor Sleep” a try. The first half of the film featured a somewhat promising storyline of rogue magical beings cursed with the powers of the shining, called the True Knot. The leader of this group, Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), and her fellow colleagues had a sinister and somewhat intriguing characterization that could have paved the way for a compelling alternative take on the original source material. But, instead of pursuing a unique interpretation of this story, “Doctor Sleep” relied far too heavily on the nostalgia factor of “The Shining” and fails to create much of a voice of its own.

Viewers, myself included, expected a much darker tone for the film, expecting to see a traumatized Danny Torrence (played by Ewan McGregor) continue to suffer from the torment he experienced at the Outlook Hotel as a child. While the film did give a fairly accurate portrayal of this, the first hour of the two and a half-hour film somewhat dragged in its pacing. Building Danny’s backstory took a significant portion of the eeriness and fear out of the beginning of the film, creating a bland tone for the story that heavily relied on the development of each character’s background. The book faces no such issue as it weaves gracefully in and out of exposition. Building up Danny as a character took far too long, so long in fact that I forgot to be afraid of the “bad guys.”

The True Knot members were the main antagonists of “Doctor Sleep” and were frightening in theory—supernatural humanoids who feasted off “steam” (magical powers, or as Danny calls it, “the shining”) of children to stay alive forever. King did a fantastic job of creating his own mythology for these people in the novel and it would have been intriguing to see that lore transferred to the big screen. However, the True Knot looks borderline ridiculous throughout the film — Rose even wears a black hat that resembles that of a magician’s. While reading the book back in 2013, I thought the hat served as an ominous token of her character. However, brought to the screen, she simply looks like a woman in a silly hat, as there is no real explanation given in regards to her attachment to it. 

This mirrors my broader irritation with the film’s antagonists: instead of a decrepit group of human-like monsters, they’re depicted as a ragtag, bohemian group of hippies that joke and fight and shop at Target — and also torture and murder children for a grueling five-minute scene. There is not a lot of consistency as to how the audience is supposed to feel about these people throughout the movie and, in the horror genre, a strong antagonist is key. If filmmakers had taken the time to further develop the mythology behind members of the True Knot instead of focusing on their grungy group aesthetic, perhaps audiences would feel more of a reward following the resolution of the film.

This brings me to what I thought to be the weakest part of the movie: the climax. Of course, a movie like “Doctor Sleep” couldn’t just leave the Overlook Hotel alone. 

Typically, I’m not one to complain about revisiting canon source material. Throughout recent years, changing and exploring previously established aspects of King novels within new film adaptations has worked in filmmakers’ favor — just look at the success of “IT.” But if there is one work of King’s that should remain untouchable by greedy Hollywood filmmakers, it is “The Shining.” So when Danny and Abra (played by Kyliegh Curran) slowly drove up into the snowy mountaintops of Colorado, I felt nervous about how filmmakers were going to revamp some of the most iconic moments in cinema history. Not to my surprise, they butchered it.

From the moment Danny and Abra stepped foot into the Overlook Hotel, I found myself thinking “please god, don’t try to recreate the elevator scene.” For the following five minutes, my wish was granted. But suddenly, as if completely at random, Rose walks past the infamous elevator doors and the exact shot-by-shot scene of flowing blood disgraced the screen. This iconic movie moment seemed to serve absolutely no purpose in relation to the greater plot when replicated in “Doctor Sleep,” and I found myself even more infuriated with the recycled clips of the twins standing in the hallway and the beaten-down bathroom door (“Here’s Johnny!”). 

With the familiar and arguably exhausted waves of reddish blood flowing from the elevator and the half-measure attempts to replicate every (yes, every) noteworthy scene from “The Shining,” all of my hopes for this film were quickly washed away.

Stephen King’s novels are a tough beast to adapt. I will give credit where credit is due and admit that Flanagan’s “Doctor Sleep” is a faithful adaptation of the book. The actors each give compelling performances, (hello, Ewan McGregor) and the special effects involved with replicating the Overlook Hotel, as well as some interesting dream sequences, are worthy of praise. However, the clash in aesthetic from “The Shining” to this film created a disappointing look into what could have been a thrilling follow-up on the original movie. My co-writer summarized it best while walking out of the theatre: “Don’t you think Stephen King adaptations should be left in the ’80s?” 

  5 out of 10 Torches.

Categories: Arts & Entertainment

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