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2 reviews, 4 user ratings

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Doctor Sleep
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by Jay Seaver

"A carefully-crafted continuation."
3 stars

Coming to "Doctor Sleep" as more of a fan of screenwriter/director Mike Flanagan than either Stephen King or "The Shining" makes for an odd experience, as he clearly is a fan making what sometimes feels like the biggest fan film he can. It's a good one, and a fairly decent fantasy in general, but when it's finished, the audience will likely remember its respectful recreation the most out of everything else that's done well here.

It opens with the familiar events with the Torrance family at the Overlook Hotel in 1980, but it turns out that Dan Torrence isn't the only one with what his mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) called a "shine". The ghosts from the Overlook chase him even into adulthood, but they may not be the most dangerous thing out there - a nomad calling herself Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) and her band have been preying on kids with a shine for a long time, bottling and drinking their essence to extend life and increase powers. She has taken on a new apprentice in Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lloyd), and while Dan (Ewan McGregor) mostly just wants to keep his head down, his new home in New Hampshire puts him near Abra Stone, whose powers may be stronger than Dan's. At 15, Abra (Kyliegh Curran) is not inclined to hide, starting to investigate when she feels the ripples of Rose's group preying on another kid, which naturally puts a target on Abra.

Doctor Sleep is the sort of sequel that looks to expand the universe of its progenitor by introducing new elements, which can be a somewhat dicey proposition in a case like this - speaking as someone who has only seen the films, I don't necessarily think of The Shining as one that necessarily compels because of its unique ideas about how ghosts and psychic powers work as opposed to them being a material reflection of what's going on in his head. This film leans on such things much more, with Rose implying that there are classes of shiners, the lot talking about tricks, implying secret histories, leading to a climax that is built on Dan hatching a plan using these things that were mostly metaphorical as practical tools. It's a sort of mathematical approach to the material that is fun in its own way but doesn't provoke the same sort of emotional reaction.

It's not all conflicts of power levels and tactics, fortunately. Flanagan isn't coy about drawing a line between magic on the one hand and substance abuse or addiction on the other. Dan's modern-day life is shaped by conventional narratives of addiction and recovery, and the film's best scene may be one where he and one of his demons converse on the subject - neither Ewan McGregor nor Dan is necessarily freed by being able to talk about something relatively conventional without secrecy or weird terminology, but that scene flows naturally where others show more effort. Meanwhile, the metaphor is fairly clear where Rose's crew is concerned, and not just from how they attack the steam that rises from their victims like desperate junkies. Rose is the supplier here, the one who can draw it out and distribute it. She may travel with the others in a sort of caravan, but the inside of her trailer is well-appointed, almost luxurious, while another loses coherence in a way suggests emaciation as he dies from withdrawal. Finally, there's the contrast in the apprentices - both Andi and Abra start out active, eager to use their powers to root out predators, but as Abra perseveres despite setbacks, Andi winds up another junkie, chasing the next hit.

That's something of a problem at points; the confrontations between these groups are often less exciting than they should be, ambushes that may spill a fair amount of blood but don't have much back and forth within the battle. Almost every bit of action plays out the same way, often right down to the bit at the end where the defeated enemy spitefully extracts a price for the victory. Flanagan stages and cuts them well - it's noteworthy that he serves as his own editor - but by the time the film reaches its final act, the audience knows how this is going to play out. That it's all well-paced and impeccably executed is nice, but there's never the sort of uncertainty that leads to fear or excitement.

Still, the very way that Flanagan builds this film so that it can so seamlessly serve as a sequel to Stanley Kubrick's is impressive and kind of fascinating. He sets the tone early, recreating The Shining's production design and specific scenes before branching out to new places and characters, and beyond that he uses a lot of the same sorts of long-held shots and competition so that the movies feel the same even to those not inclined to freeze-frame and dig into detail. It's the casting that feels clever, though - Alex Essoe, Carl Lumbly, and Henry Thomas will initially impress for how closely they resemble the original cast (kudos to wardrobe/makeup/hair/etc.as well), but Flanagan is canny enough to realize that they won't be exact recreations, and instead has them play the characters as Dan remembers them. Essoe, in particular, is not quite Shelly Duvall's Wendy, but this version comes across the way she would be in her son's mind, rather than the whining weakling that Jack saw.

"Doctor Sleep" is meticulous in its assembly, and probably wouldn't have seemed properly connected to Kubrick's "The Shining" if it wasn't. The trick is using that careful construction to create a thrilling and affecting yarn. Flanagan is able to do that at moments and sustains it more often than other filmmakers might, but even the strongest artists can sometimes find themselves creating something a little bit hollow when so much of the effort goes into imitating someone else.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=32255&reviewer=371
originally posted: 11/15/19 13:27:30
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User Comments

2/17/20 Jack "Steamers"? Vampires who feed on "steamers"? This was a comedy, right? 1 stars
11/14/19 Bob Dog If I had left at the two hour mark, I would rate this *****. 3 stars
11/13/19 Ham Burglar It wasn't bad and had its moments of suspense 4 stars
11/08/19 morris campbell not as good as the shining but still good 4 stars
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