Doctor Sleep is long. It's packed with lots of good ideas, but what plagues it the way old demons plague its main character, Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor), is its tremendous love for The Shining. It feels like a child trying to step out of the shadow of its father but inevitably being drawn into the same path, which ironically mirrors part of Danny's journey. But while it sounds like a wonderful parallel in theory, it causes the story to suffer and prevents Doctor Sleep from being a movie that can stand on its own two feet.
Doctor Sleep takes place 39 years after the events of The Shining. Traumatised by the hauntings in his childhood, Danny Torrance has kept a low profile, hiding his powers and occasionally using alcohol as a form of escapism. He befriends a girl with far more powerful abilities than him — but when she attracts the attention of a group of psychic parasites, he realises that he must stop running from his past in order to save her life.
As a film that explores the lives of two very different characters who are inexplicably drawn into each other's orbit, Danny and Abra (Kyliegh Curran), the movie shines. Their performances are marvelous, especially when you realise that their differences are precisely what makes them so suited to aiding each other. It's full of good ideas, interesting insights and beautiful contrasts, which are bolstered by the wonderful cinematography and exquisite visuals. It's symbolic, moody, metaphorical, and the pictures tells as much story as the plot.
But then there's the other side of movie, the part which recognises it is a sequel to another beloved film and tries so hard to show its love for and link to The Shining. It's this very element that bloats the story and muddies the focus of the plot, even as it tries to shoehorn its predecessor into the movie. Characters make weird, artificial decisions and the plot twists the arms of its characters just so that in the finale, it can trot out its status as a sequel to The Shining and revisit all the things that made the first film so treasured.
That makes Doctor Sleep overly long, to the point that you can't believe it's still going on because the main characters seemingly had a chance to wrap up the story a few scenes ago. Instead, no, it belabours the whole connection to The Shining to the point that you wonder — why not just do a remake of The Shining instead? Why bother trying to tell or adapt a new story when you're clearly obsessed with that other story instead? Shouldn't a new movie be focusing on the new characters and conflicts it has introduced, rather than trying to dredge up literal ghosts that have been putb to rest in a movie from another era? The film's running time could have been cut by a good half hour had it not had this slavish devotion to its predecessor.
Then there's this half-hearted attempt to depict the alcohol dependency/addiction/struggle that the main character has. It's hard to define because he's a recovering alcoholic and yet he's not, not really. You know that he's an alcoholic because the film firmly establishes that in the beginning, but fails to follow through when it's most plausible for an alcoholic to relapse — namely, the stressful events (like having a group of psychic vampires trying to eat you and your new friend?) that occur to Danny in the movie. It just becomes this convenient plot point that drops in when summoned but fades away when other, more interesting events occur.
Doctor Sleep's approach to the super power of "the shining" is also one that's dated in this day and age. When superhero movies are a dime a dozen and the presentation of superpowers in movies has been so finely honed that you expect structured explanations and internal consistency, this movie's vague definition of "the shining" and its lack of proper exposition seems odd. It might have worked for The Shining, when Danny's psychic powers then were a mysterious novelty, but now that you have people with "the shining" clash with each other, a more quantifiable approach to their powers would have worked wonders.
As a movie, Doctor Sleep ticks off all the checkboxes, especially with its production values and art direction. But there's this sense that it can't stand alone without the benefit of its famous predecessor, and that you can't enjoy it properly without knowing what came before. It's a great sequel to The Shining for sure, but it may not be that enjoyable if you haven't watched the previous movie.
Running time: 152 minutes
Doctor Sleep is a drama-thriller. It is based on the 2013 novel of the same name, and is a sequel to 1977's novel, The Shining, as well as its film adaptation in 1980.
It is written and directed by Mike Flanagan. It stars Ewan McGregor (Dan Torrance), Roger Dale Floyd (young Dan Torrance), Rebecca Ferguson (Rose the Hat), Kyliegh Curran (Abra Stone), Carl Lumbry (Dick Hallorann), Zahn McClaron (Crow Daddy), and Emily Alvn Lind (Snakebite Andi).
Doctor Sleep opens in cinemas:
- 7 November, 2019 (Singapore)
- 7 November, 2019 (Philippines)
Marcus Goh is a television scriptwriter who writes for “Crimewatch”, as well as popular shows like “Lion Mums”, “Code of Law”, “Incredible Tales”, and “Police & Thief”. He’s also a Transformers enthusiast and avid pop culture scholar. You can find him on social media as Optimarcus and on his site. The views expressed are his own.
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