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Doctor Sleep (2019)
Movie Reviews

Doctor Sleep (2019)

A crass, over-hyped attempt to cash in on the legacy of The Shining, only with boring characters and a dull story.

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Having trouble getting to sleep? Tossing and turning at night, unable to find any rest under the covers? Then have I got a movie for you. Billed as the official sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic The Shining and based off Stephen King’s 2013 followup, Doctor Sleep continues the story of Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) thirty years later, now fully grown and a recovering alcoholic due to the trauma he suffered as a child at the Overlook Hotel. Dan meets a young girl, Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), who possess psychic powers similar to him – aka “the shine” – only hers is much more powerful.

She’s also being hunted by a cult calling themselves The True Knot, led by the sinister Rose the Hate (Rebecca Ferguson). The True Knot feed on children gifted/cursed with “the shine” in order to slow their aging process. I should have followed my gut instinct after not being impressed with the trailer and chosen another movie because Doctor Sleep ended up being drawn out and boring with a plot bordering on the idiotic.

Doctor Sleep starts not long after the events of The Shining while Danny is still a child and living with his mother Wendy Torrance (Alex Essoe) in Florida. By using his “shine”, Danny learns from the ghost of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) how to trap evil entities in special “boxes” in his mind, which is handy as he’s still being haunted by one of the ghosts from the Overlook Hotel. Despite being taught how to use his powers to protect himself from evil spirits, Danny still grows up to be Dan, an alcoholic who uses substance abuse to suppress his “shining”.

After hitting rock bottom, Dan moves to a small town to start a new life where he meets and befriends Billy Freeman (Cliff Curtis), who helps him establish a place to stay, a job and more importantly, getting sober. Not long after making this move, Dan begins receiving telepathic communication from Abra Stone – a child with very powerful abilities – who he also befriends.

Through the use of her incredible psychic abilities, Abra witness the death of a child at the hands of The True Knot. Their leader, Rose The Hat, senses Abra while the girl witnesses the murder and realizes the enormous power she posseses. With fewer children possessing the “shine” energy they require to feed on as time passes, Rose The Hat becomes hellbent on finding Abra so that her evil family can feed on the vast energy the teenager has. Dan, Abra and Billy must work together in order to face this evil force who outnumber them in order to stop the murderous cult from killing them and other innocent children.

While there are a number of factors that make Doctor Sleep a drawn out dull experience such as a disjointed plot, slow pacing and lame villains – one of the contributing factors to its dullness is the performance of the cast across the board. There are no stand out or impressive performances that would help lift this idiotic story to an enjoyable level.

I’m a big fan of Ewan McGregor and to be honest he was the reason I gave this movie a chance because the trailer was unimpressive. I thought surely McGregor will make this interesting experience but I was wrong. He’s just kind of there. Yes the script is nothing special but there was nothing about him that made me feel like I was watching a leading man. He says the lines and goes through the motions, yet doesn’t seem like the right fit for the role. By the time we reach the climax where he’s imitating Jack Nicholson’s iconic performance from The Shining it just becomes painful to watch. He’s clearly miscast.

While McGregor proved to be a rather dull protagonist he’s met by an equally dull performance by Rebecca Ferguson (Mission: Impossible – Fallout) as Rose The Hat. Again, I admit the actors don’t have much to work with but I think what contributes to Ferguson’s vampiric villain being so unimpressive is the casting. She makes an effort to be a sexy, gypsy-esqu, menacing creature but instead comes off laughable. She lacks charisma, presence and acting chops to make this character anything more than a modern bad gypsy wearing a silly hat.

Director Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game, Before I Wake) – who also wrote and edited Doctor Sleep – has done a great job of recreating the look and feel of Kubrick’s The Shining, which is an accomplishment itself. The aesthetics, the recreation of iconic characters from the original film and camera movements, like in the snow-filled maze, are done especially well. But the story is bloated, boring, disjointed and dumb. So much could have been cut from this film and it wouldn’t have made a difference to the overall plot.

Part of what makes this such a bloated, disjointed story is that it’s never really clear which story is the one that should be told. On one hand we have the story of Dan, a recovering alcoholic who becomes the titular “Doctor Sleep” by helping dying patients accept their fate at the new town he moves to. Then we have the story of the younger Abra who’s still learning to use her powers and being hunted by The True Knot. There’s two very different story arcs here that just don’t work well together.

What also makes this movie a disappointment is that strong plot points set up early in the story, such as the immense power Abra possesses and the realisation that members of The True Knot can be killed by conventional methods, are totally ignored towards the film’s end. Perhaps more cynically, these plot points are ignored so that there is an excuse to revisit the iconic hotel from the first film and give the filmmakers a chance to recreate its more iconic scenes. It’s as crass as it sounds, coming off as little more than a cheap excuse to cash in on The Shining.

Doctor Sleep is just what the doctor ordered – if you’re suffering from insomnia and will take any help they can to nod off. It’s difficult to believe that fans of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining are going to be impressed with this crass, over-hyped attempt to continue the story in this way. In all fairness, Kubrick’s film has its detractors – including creator Stephen King himself – but at least it managed to feature one of Jack Nicholson’s most famous and memorable performances. Doctor Sleep can’t even manage to offer that much, instead hoping you’ll still be invested in these characters without the necessary mania that made this franchise popular.

About the Author: Christian Stirling