Ewan McGregor in Doctor Sleep (Photo: Warner)
** (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Mike Flanagan
STARS Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson
It’s definitely the minority opinion, but aside from the training-wheel pictures that preceded 1956’s The Killing, 1980’s The Shining might be the weakest of all movies directed by Stanley Kubrick. That’s not a slam at all — I’ve seen the movie countless times and always find something to admire — it’s just that this adaptation of the Stephen King novel doesn’t inspire the same level of admiration and excitement as Dr. Strangelove, Paths of Glory or any of Kubrick’s other bruising beauties.
I only bring this up to demonstrate that any displeasure toward Doctor Sleep isn’t because I hold The Shining up in such rapturous regard that any sequel would seem lacking. On the contrary, the movie largely fails on its own terms.
Opening approximately three decades after the horrors of The Shining and then leaping forward a few more years, Doctor Sleep follows the now-adult Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) as he continues to cope with the events that occurred at the Overlook Hotel during his childhood — namely, that his dad went crazy and tried to axe everyone in sight. Taking the sage advice of the ghost of Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) to compartmentalize his inner demons while also surviving a battle with alcoholism, Dan now works at a hospice, where his ability to use his “shine” to comfort dying patients have earned him the nickname of “Doctor Sleep.”
Over the years, Dan has found that he shares a mental link with Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl whose shine is more powerful than that harbored by just about anyone else who bears this blessing/curse. Abra’s energy is so strong, in fact, that she draws the attention of the True Knot, basically a group of psychic vampires who kill those with the shine and inhale the escaping energy in order to extend their own lives (not unlike those Highlanders of film and TV fame). The leader of the True Knot is Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), and she’s the one who first senses the presence of little Abra.
Writer-director Mike Flanagan has stated that Doctor Sleep is meant as a combination of the finer qualities of King’s two novels and Kubrick’s singular film. Regardless of his best intentions, his cinematic endeavor turns out to be a largely flavorless stew. Its only noteworthy ingredient is Rose the Hat — she’s an original and unsettling character, and, as played by Ferguson, she’s so disturbing on her own that she actually loses some of her menace on those frequent occasions when the FX crew adds a glowing sheen to her eyes. The other members of the True Knot are far less threatening, coming across less as avatars of unspeakable evil and more as burned-out roadies still loyally following their favorite ‘70s band after all these decades.
Still, the scenes involving the True Knot at least steer clear of the influence of The Shining — both King’s and Kubrick’s. There’s nothing wrong with McGregor’s performance as Dan except that it doesn’t deep-dive far enough into the character’s tortured mind. Whether that’s more a failing on the part of Flanagan or McGregor is uncertain, but the actor feels more like a visitor to the role than an actual occupant.
Meanwhile, the decision to recreate scenes from the 1980 movie prove to be disastrous — comparing the artistry of Flanagan and Kubrick does the former no favors — and the picture finally jumps the tracks during its final stretch, when the action moves to the Overlook Hotel. These sequences, which feel like an afterthought when compared to the rhythm established throughout the earlier chunk of the film, are not only completely devoid of tension, they’re also missing something even more crucial: the palpable atmosphere that in The Shining was so thick, it was practically a character unto itself. In Doctor Sleep, there is no comparable atmosphere. It’s been replaced with a thin veneer of flopsweat, ably demonstrating that all work and no coherent vision makes for a movie that, if not exactly dull, could still use a little more shine.