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Ewan McGregor as Danny Torrance in 'Doctor Sleep, a Warner Bros. Picture film, based on the Stephen King novel.
Roger Dale Floyd as young Danny Torrence in ‘Doctor Sleep’, based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
Rebecca Ferguson as Rose The Hat and Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone in the Warner Bros. Pictures’ supernatural thriller ‘Doctor Sleep’ based on the novel of the same name by Stephen King.
If a bad dream could have its own nightmare, it would probably look something like Doctor Sleep. This adaptation of Stephen King’s sequel to his novel The Shining – with a heavy tip of the hat to Stanley Kubrick’s film version – manages to be at once scary and thoughtful in its presentation.
After a brief prologue in 1980 – the setting of Kubrick’s movie, in which Jack Nicholson’s character terrorized his wife and son Danny in the snowbound Overlook Hotel – we’re transported to 2011 New Jersey, where a now-adult Danny (Ewan McGregor) is battling the demons of alcoholism, as well as actual demons, thanks to his “shine.” (More on that in a moment.) He moves to small-town New Hampshire to pull himself together.
Then to the present day. Danny is now eight years sober. Abra Stone (assured newcomer Kyliegh Curran) is a 13-year-old grappling with her own developing mental powers. And Rose (Rebecca Ferguson) is keeping herself and a group of followers eternally young by sacrificing children, eating their screams and drinking their pain. It’s Monsters, Inc., with real monsters.
These three will collide when Abra is overwhelmed by the pain of a murdered little boy (Jacob Tremblay) and reaches out to Danny, while Rose gets wind of these two powerful would-be adversaries and decides they need to be eliminated. All this is done through their “shining” powers, which are never perfectly explained, but seem to encompass astral projection, telepathy, hypnosis and the ability to visit someone else’s memory palace. “It’s like a library,” Abra says wisely, after a dip into Rose’s mind. “I guess we’re all like libraries on the inside.”
Also, the essence consumed by Rose is referred to as “steam” and is kept in nifty thermos-like flasks. Everyone has some in them, but it’s getting weaker these days, which someone in the film attributes to “cellphones, diet or Netflix.” I knew it!
Writer/director Mike Flanagan (Oculus, The Haunting of Hill House) walks a delicate line between King’s work and Kubrick’s. The result lacks the visual formalism of the latter’s cinematic genius, and will never inspire a what’s-it-all-about doc like the excellent 2012 deep dive that is Room 237, but it still remains a standout addition to the horror genre.
Doctor Sleep is not without its weaknesses, including an over-reliance on heartbeat noises – honestly, you’d think you were watching Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart – and a terribly weak catchphrase for the villain: “Hi there!” It’s like being stalked by an old Peter Gabriel music video.
But there is some lovely camerawork at play – one scene gives new meaning to the phrase “dropping in on someone” – and an oddity not often seen in horror films, where the scary evil entities must face their own demons. It bleeds some of the terror out of the picture, which sounds like a negative for the genre, but isn’t that what facing your fears is supposed to accomplish?
Doctor Sleep opens across Canada on Nov. 8.
Copyright Postmedia Network Inc., 2019