Tuesday, November 26, 2019

Doctor Sleep Manages To Be More Than Just 2 The 2 Shining

Every brand with even a modicum of fame is getting exploited for sequels, reboots, TV shows and everything in between in the modern era of pop culture, so it was inevitable that somebody would eventually come along with a sequel to The Shining, especially since Stephen King already penned a sequel to his original Shining book in the form of Doctor Sleep. The feature film sequel to The Shining decides to adapt that Doctor Sleep text while also trying to wed that story to Kubrick's original film. Considering how wildly detached King's books were from Kubrick's movies, the notion of trying to fuse the two together sounds like a massive task for writer/director Mike Flanagan at best and a potential recipe for disaster at worst.

Having not read either of King's two Shining books, I can't exactly say how Doctor Sleep works as a merging of both King's writing and Kubrick's filmmaking. However, I can say it's way better than you'd expect something like The Shining 2: Electric Boogaloo to end up being. It's oh so easy to imagine a producer just hiring one of the directors responsible for those Platinum Dunes horror remakes and telling them to redo The Shining, but instead, Flanagan has made something that's clearly trying to be a different creature from The Shining thematically while also adopting that films slower-paced editing and filmmaking style. Not all of it works, but Doctor Sleep impressed me in its ambitions and much of its execution.

Doctor Sleep focuses on Danny Torrance (portrayed as an adult by Ewan McGregor), who's understandably scarred by his experiences in The Shining. He and his Mom may have left the hotel, but he's still grappling with his demons (figuratively and literally) as well as his supernatural telepathic abilities known as The Shining. It's a struggle that extends into adulthood and sees Danny grappling with alcoholism. Eventually, he's able to build a quiet but steady life for himself, one where he keeps a lid on his powers. But Danny isn't the only one with these gifts. There's also a young girl named Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) with a particularly strong form of The Shining as well as a cult of vicious evildoers led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) bent on devouring children with the Shining.

One of the biggest ways Doctor Sleep deviates from The Shining is in the scope of its story. Whereas the original Shining movie was all about three people trapped in a hotel and gradually descending into madness, Doctor Sleep spans multiple states and three individual storylines that eventually converge on one another. The presence of Rose the Hat and her gang of vampire cultists traveling across the country to hunt for kids alone makes it clear that Doctor Sleep is aiming to broaden its scope. Thankfully, expanding the scope of its storyline doesn't mean Mike Flanagan's screenplay sacrifices depth in the process, this is not like a Transformers sequel where all humanity has been tossed out for size.

Actually, much of the first half of Doctor Sleep functions mostly as a quiet character drama with only brief interruptions of something more supernatural as we follow Danny struggling to cope with his demons. Flanagan's dedication to just letting these smaller intimate scenes simmer, especially any of the sequences depicting Danny in his job at a hospice comforting dying patients, is immensely appreciated. This slower-pacing allows us a chance to get to know Danny and his anguish properly while instances where he does manage to fight back his demons are able to feel totally earned. I expected to see callbacks to The Shining in Doctor Sleep, but I totally wasn't expecting to get such a thoughtful exploration of a man coping with both addiction and personal trauma.

Once Abra and Danny's individual storylines come together, Danny's personal woes do get put on the back-burner to a frustrating degree, which is the most disappointing part of Doctor Sleep's script. Despite having such an expansive runtime, parts of its plot do have a tendency to just come and go rather than just stick around in a consistent fashion. Danny's struggles with alcoholism manifest in some interesting sequences later on in the movie, but they do tend to feel disconnected with the whole chase movie part of the story involving Danny and Abra trying to outrun Rose the Hat. That having been said, more often than not, Doctor Sleep's script does manage to stick the landing on merging together thoughtful human drama with its more stylized story elements.

Those over-the-top parts of the story are directly tied into the horror aspects of the production, which are predominately successful. Mirroring how it approaches Danny's internal struggles, Doctor Sleep's horror tends to be of an enjoyably reserved nature. Flanagan's ability to properly execute a gradually prevalent eerie atmosphere without the aid of cheap jump scares or an intrusive score makes the chilling sequences of Doctor Sleep properly unnerving. Best of all, contrary to what the Doctor Sleep marketing blanketed in Shining iconography would have you believe, Doctor Sleep creates much of its scares through its own ideas and utilizes scary elements from the original Shining movie in a tasteful manner. Doing a sequel to The Shining sounds like a bad idea, but the thoughtfully-realized Doctor Sleep shows that some good execution can salvage any concept.

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