Doctor Sleep comes across at times as a “Greatest Hits” reprise of Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 classic, The Shining (not, to be sure, of Stephen King’s original novel from 1977 — there’s a difference). So we get requisite glimpses of the Hotel Overlook’s bloody hotel doors, the Old Hag in the Bathtub, the Twins, the snowy maze and the barroom presided over by Lloyd the Bartender (here Henry Thomas appears as a Jack Nicholson look-alike). Best of all, there’s a reprise of the great old song, “Midnight,” that closed the Kubrick and now rounds out the Flanagan version). The absence of any acknowledgment to Kubrick’s film in the closing credits indicates that director Mike Flanagan has cleverly replicated everything we see in the Overlook’s scenes. And I have to admit that these simulations are pretty damn convincing. I could swear I actually saw shots of Nicholson swinging the ax at Shelley Duval. I also have to admit that I spent more time tracking the actuality or fakery of these moments than I did anything else of the convoluted plot. Certainly, I felt little of a genuine frisson of horror.
As an apparent apology for the damages wrought upon the novel by Kubrick, this time the Overlook does indeed go up in flames, destroyed by the overloaded boilers, as King had originally intended.
Otherwise, we have a farrago of the tropes forever associated with King’s work, such as preternaturally-gifted children, cult communes, astral projections, telepathy, and mind-altering drugs. Danny Torrance is now in his forties. Never recovered from the traumas suffered as a child in the Overlook Hotel, he is now a full-blown alcoholic. He must face up to his wasted life by confronting a cult of semi-immortal vampires traversing the country in a caravan, led by the beauteous Rose the Hat. They seek out children with what Danny calls, the “shine”; and after dispatching them, they inhale the life-force of “steam” emanating from their mouths. Assisting Danny is a gifted young girl, Abra, likewise possessing a prodigious dose of “Shine.” As allies, they end up in the Overlook Hotel where, Danny says, the Evil therein will defeat the Evil without.
I’m still chewing on the logic of that.
What results is an unstable mashup of references to King’s original novel, King’s sequel, and Kubrick’s adaptation of the original novel. Somewhere in the midst of that web of referents is a story called “The Shining,” but, paradoxically, it eludes us at every turn.
And there’s that relentless soundtrack ostinato of a thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP, thump-THUMP that pounds its way through virtually the entire picture.
I’m afraid it’s all pretty dreadful. What viewers unacquainted with either King’s two novels or Kubrick’s movie will make of this new movie is anybody’s guess. As someone familiar with all the versions that have come before, I came away unsatisfied and a bit dismayed. For me, Doctor Sleep is merely a troubled snooze.
Adapted and directed by Mike Flanagan and starring Ewen McGregor as Danny Torrance, Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, and Kyliegh Curran as Abra.