Sunday, 10 November 2019

Review: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep
Cert: 15 / 152 mins / Dir. Mike Flanagan / Trailer

Who’d have thought that 2019 would turn out to be the year for slightly-overly-long Stephen King sequels? But here we are. More to the point, who’d have thought that I’d be enjoying that?


Doctor Sleep is the screen-continuation of the tale begun in 1980’s The Shining, with Ewan McGregor picking up the reins as that film’s Danny Torrance, now an adult with the requisite number of issues you’d expect from someone who survived the events of the first movie. While the Overlook Hotel returns (more properly as a character rather than a location), Danny’s main foe here is age-old occultist and psychic-vampire Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), while he tries to save gifted youngster Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) from her evil clutches.

And the film good. More to the point, I’m saying it’s good as someone who didn’t particularly enjoy The Shining. Doctor Sleep is more satisfying as a feature film largely because Mike Flanagan knows how to direct a cast*1, yet despite King’s somewhat lukewarm reception to that original film, this entry still reveres it without becoming enthralled. There are sections which are admittedly closer to tribute-act than follow-up, but that’s no bad thing (Kubrick’s visuals are at least on the tick-list of things I liked). It’s rare to get a sequel which is so clearly in love with its predecessor yet for all its nods and homages is nowhere near as laboured or self-indulgent.


It’s not all plain sailing of course. Smooth visual parity with the earlier film is speed-bumped by the (apparently deliberate) decision to re-cast roles from that movie using actors who bear almost no resemblance to the earlier players*2, while McGregor, Ferguson and supporting actor Cliff Curtis all regularly run the risk of being pulled over and arrested for failing to control an accent in a built-up screenplay.

Additionally, rather than use the extended run-time for an all-encompassing web of storytelling, what we get comes off as episodic. Danny's time as a hospital porter seems like a spinoff novella that's been retrospectively worked into the narrative as an interlude, rather than the central pillar to his character that it should be. That said, thanks to some choice casting, the introduction to Ewan's/Danny's adult life feels like a flashforward to an alternate-timeline Trainspotting, with the added bonus of desert-Obi-Wan's beard.

Ultimately, you have to admire the chutzpah of a two-and-a-half-hour movie which recruits an actor as formidable as Jacob Tremblay for a five-minute appearance. Very few can pull that off, nor indeed the film in general. Bravo.

So, what sort of thing is it similar to?
Difficult for me to say since I'm not an aficionado of King's work, but I guess the fast-call is The Shining.

Is it worth paying cinema-prices to see?
It is.

Is it worth hunting out on DVD, Blu-ray or streaming, though?
It is.

Is this the best work of the cast or director?
Let's not go mad.

Will we disagree about this film in a pub?
That's possible.

Is there a Wilhelm Scream in it?
There isn't.

Yeah but what's the Star Wars connection?
Level 1: Obi-Wan Kenobi is in this.

And if I HAD to put a number on it…

*1 Whereas Kubrick couldn't direct traffic on Burgh Island. There, I said it. [ BACK ]

*2 To the point where the "great party, isn't it?" dude isn't even using the same accent. Don't even get me started on the bar scene. You've got Jack, talking to Daniel, pouring from a bottle of Jack Daniels, but you couldn't get Jack Nicholson back onto a set? Just for that bit? Instead you've gone and used Henry Thomas (Elliott from E.T.), a dude who neither looks, sounds nor acts like Jack Nicholson? Yeah, you're right - Nicholson wasn't a central feature of the first movie, no one will really notice.

Listen Mike, here's what you do: The bartender in 1980's The Shining was played by Joe Turkel - Old Man Tyrell from 1982's Blade Runner. Now, aerial footage from the beginning of The Shining was used at the end of the 'happy-cut' of Blade Runner, so to continue that link across the movies, why not get Harrison Ford to play Lloyd the bartender in Doctor Sleep? Better still, you'll then have Han Solo serving drinks to Obi-Wan Kenobi, another link to the blizzarding snows of Hoth which connects The Shining to Empire Strikes Back.

That's how you intertwine mythologies while maintaining narrative fluidity, Flanagan.
You're very welcome. [ BACK ]

• ^^^ That's dry, British humour, and most likely sarcasm or facetiousness.
• Yen's blog contains harsh language and even harsher notions of propriety. Reader discretion is advised.
• This is a personal blog. The views and opinions expressed here represent my own thoughts (at the time of writing) and not those of the people, institutions or organisations that I may or may not be related with unless stated explicitly.

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