After witnessing a mysterious woman lure a young girl to a horrible death and another, Abra Stone (newcomer Kyliegh Curran), suspend spoons from her kitchen ceiling in competition with her birthday party’s magician, we meet up with the adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) hitting bottom via the alcoholism inherited from his father Jack. Danny starts over in Frazier, New Hampshire, with the help of Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), who gets him a job and a place in his local AA meetings. Dan enjoys a curious psychographical pen pal in Abra, whose shine will connect her with the diabolical Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). Danny’s gift is called upon to battle evil forces, pulling him away from his existence as a hospital orderly who helps the aged pass peacefully along with a cat named Azzy, a practice which has made him known as “Doctor Sleep.”
In adapting Stephen King’s “The Shining” sequel, writer/director Mike Flanagan ("Ouija: Origin of Evil," "Gerald's Game") has pulled off the rarity of creating a film which bests its source material. Far better than either chapter of “It,” “Doctor Sleep” isn’t perfect, its ersatz Overlook Hotel and Jack ("E.T.'s" Henry Thomas) and Wendy Torrance (Alex Essoe) pale imitations of Kubrick’s, but Flanagan was smart to put them back into a story whose climax suffered from drab environs while stripping away unnecessary subplots. Ferguson’s physical grace and Flanagan’s visualization of her character’s astral projections are both unsettling and beautiful to behold.
Dan Torrance is a reluctant hero frequently prodded by his old mentor Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) into doing the right thing. Dick, a visitor in Dan’s mind, has taught Doc how to lure his old Overlook tormentors into mental boxes where he’s successfully locked them all up. Far away, Abra’s not so lucky, bearing witness to Rose the Hat and her vampiric gang, who live as long as they can ingest the ‘steam’ which escapes the bodies of children gifted with the shine as they die. Even worse, ‘pain is a purifier,’ so when the gypsy-like gang nabs ‘baseball boy’ Bradley Trevor (Jacob Tremblay), Abra awakens screaming over his nightmarish death. The young girl traces her pen pal, arriving by bus only to be told by ‘Uncle Dan’ to keep her head down, but Abra is determined to avenge Brad’s murder. She does something no one has ever done before – gets into Rose’s head (another standout scene Flanagan envisions with flourish).
While flashbacks to recreated scenes from “The Shining” – the decaying hag from Room 237, young Danny’s sonic Big Wheel trips, the twins, those blood-gushing elevators and the ballroom bartender – are B movie versions from an A list film, Flanagan suggests other movies with more panache. The open scene of young Violet being drawn to Rose at a camping ground lake is reminiscent of Frankenstein’s meeting with the little girl in the James Whale classic. We remember “Salem’s Lot” as a floating Abra and Rose ponder each other’s reflections in a bedroom window. There are hints of “The Hunger” in the recruitment and conversion of Snakebite Andi (Emily Alyn Lind) and in the demise of her new kind, like the group’s oldest, Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken). Ironically, the most effective reference to Kubrick’s film is an oddity, the recreation of the Overlook manager’s office in Frazier, New Hampshire for AA leader Dr. John (Bruce Greenwood).
The film has a lovely, autumnal palette courtesy of cinematographer Michael Fimognari (who also shot Flanagan’s ‘The Haunting of Hill House’ for Netflix) and a heartbeat-heavy score from the Newton Brothers (ditto). If the resuscitation of the Overlook isn’t up to snuff, it is better than the having the characters run around on the land where it once stood as happens in the book. The film does dip in its denouement, preceding passages where Dan, Billy and Agra face off against Rose’s minions and her lover Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon, TV's 'Fargo,' 'Westworld,' memorable) more suspenseful and more devastating, but Flanagan’s fashioned a solid wrap cementing the legacy of Danny Torrance.
Robin did not see this film.
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