Doctor Sleep (2019) – movie review

Doctor Sleep. YouTube

Second only to It: Chapter Two, Doctor Sleep must have been one of the most anticipated horror movies of the year for fans of Stephen King. Also, people who have been eagerly following Mike Flanagan’s career, like me, were probably very excited too.

I was granted access to a press screening for the movie, which just came out on Halloween in some parts of Europe, but it’ll be released on November 8th in the United States: therefore, it goes without saying that this review will be 100% spoiler-free.

It’s important, however, to have realistic expectations about the film. Technically a sequel to The Shining (1980), this movie aims to be more faithful to the source material (Stephen King’s novel Doctor Sleep, published in 2013) than Kubrick’s film. In fact, what Mike Flanagan tries to do here is combining elements of Kubrick’s vision with the true essence of King’s storytelling by following a cult, known as The True Knot, that preys on children with psychic powers to remain immortal. Years after the events of The Shining, this malevolent cult led by Rose (Rebecca Ferguson) is now looking for young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), whose powers are stronger than everyone else’s. Danny Torrance – yes, the young Danny from The Shining – played by Ewan McGregor, is her only hope to defeat the cult and survive.

Continue reading and check my final grade below… 

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I think Doctor Sleep perfectly shows why the different visions of King and Kubrick never clicked, so to speak: in trying to juggle different tones and personalities, Mike Flanagan – who proved himself with masterful projects like Oculus, Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House – fails to find a balance, causing the film to feel tonally inconsistent, messy and convoluted, even though it never fails to be an enjoyable, captivating experience at times.

The beginning and ending of Doctor Sleep aim to recapture the feel of Kubrick’s The Shining, while also reusing the same characters and locations from the 1980 film. This is a love-letter to Kubrick in its intentions, but it comes off as someone trying to do a Kubrick impression, which feels inaccurate and way less effective. The rest of the movie tries to translate King’s odd narrative structure (let’s admit it, Doctor Sleep isn’t Stephen King’s best work) onto the screen, resulting into a storyline that jumps from one location to another, from one set of characters to the others, from an era to another in a way that feels quite jarring. Because of all that, Mike Flanagan’s vision and usually-poignant voice are lost.

This tonal inconsistence is translated to the visuals: as a whole, Doctor Sleep looks great. Shot-composition, framing and cinematography are way above par when compared to most Hollywood flicks, but there’s no coherent style to them, because certain scenes require a different kind of filmmaking compared to others. Same goes for the visual effects, which sometimes look absolutely gorgeous and seamless, while other times feel very fake and cheap-looking.

Again, the same could be said for the characters and the acting: Ewan McGregor is a blast, as always, and his Danny feels multi-layered and rich; Kyliegh Curran does a solid job as Abra, since this character is so compelling the movie feels like a good coming-of-age story at times. The villains, however, aren’t developed at all, unfortunately. They all come off as cartoonish caricatures rather than menacing real-life baddies. Rebecca Ferguson’s over-the-top performance as Rose the Hat is effective at times, whereas in other scenes it feels almost comical in a clearly unintentional way.

Due to these inconsistencies and convoluted aspects, Doctor Sleep appears to be more like a fantasy-drama rather than a proper psychological/supernatural horror film. However, the movie doesn’t shy away from graphic moments: some of the best sequences in Doctor Sleep revolve around gory bits and really brutal violence. I think the most intense and memorable scene in the film is one that includes a hand and a face without eyes… look out for that specific moment!

Speaking of positives, soundtrack and sound-design are stellar. The music in this movie perfectly enhances (and sometimes carries) entire sequences. The locations, whether they were reused from moments in The Shining or based on King’s written work, look very cool in every single instance. Aside from one at the beginning of the film, every child actor does a good enough job not sounding annoying and obnoxious.

All in all, though, Doctor Sleep is an enjoyable but rather messy and frustrating watch. Too much content is crammed into a single movie, which causes the film to be rather convoluted and the runtime (2 hours and 31 minutes) to feel very long: adapting the source material in a more economical and effective way would’ve definitely helped the movie feel shorter and more exhilarating. There’s still plenty of quality to be found here: as usual, Flanagan’s directing is spotless without being too artsy; some sequences stand out and are memorable; the chemistry between Danny and Abra is a pleasure to watch, and the actors portraying them do a fantastic job; the film touches upon mature and delicate themes like how to deal with death and the importance to accept one’s peculiarities.

Even though Doctor Sleep is the second weakest film directed by Flanagan and it’s very flawed, I would still recommend it to every fan of his work and Stephen King’s novels.

Doctor Sleep                                     6/10

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