DOCTOR SLEEP joins the rare list of Stephen King adaptations, such as The Shawshank Redemption, The Mist, 1408, and The Green Mile as films that are far far far far far superior to their respective novels. Let me give you a little shocking revelation from my own mind of thinking: Like Stephen King, I am not a huge fan of Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining. And that was before I even read the book, which of itself, is a masterpiece. I will get to the problems of Kubrick’s film in a minute, but needless to say, Doctor Sleep makes it a better film. To support King’s recent quote, “It redeems Kubrick’s film.” While some may be put off by the films run time, two and a half hours, what writer/director Mike Flanagan does is takes an okay but very flawed book sequel, put the parts in it that worked, and improves and changes the parts that didn’t to make a very emotional and narratively satisfying film experience. I don’t know how many Stephen King adaptations there were this year, but Doctor Sleep is easily the best. Yes, better than IT Chapter 2. Again, I love Stephen King, I have read every book he has ever written, and don’t usually prefer the movies over the books, so consider this high praise.
Let me explain to you, without getting into book spoilers, why I don’t really care for the novel Doctor Sleep. Doctor Sleep has a great concept, but very poor and forced execution. Every pay off to every set up in the book feels very unearned, specifically the location of the climax and a certain family revelation/twist, that wasn’t needed and didn’t make a whole lot of sense. Also the ultimate fates of all the characters seemed a bit wonky. The movie fixes EVERYTHING. They completely remove that family revelation twist, the ultimate fate of the characters make sense to the events leading up to the end, and the location and climax of the film is earned and doesn’t bog down into fan service. While one big change (character fate) from the novel may get on some King fans nerves, I thought it should’ve happened originally when reading it for the first time, and was glad it was rectified here. In fact, the climax made me have the biggest smile on my face, because I realized how right Stephen King is when says “it redeems Kubrick’s film” and that many of you won’t understand it unless you have actually read The Shining or looked up what happens at the end of that novel.
What is the movie about? The movie serves as a direct sequel to The Shining as the beginning of the film takes place right after/during the end of that film. In fact, it takes a little bit to even get to adult Danny Torrence and find out how exactly those traumatizing events effected him as an adult. Does he still have his “shining” powers?And if so, what is he doing with them? How is he handling everything? Concurrently with Danny’s characterization/redemption journey, we are introduced to a set of villains who call themselves the “True Knot” and they are a vicious little group who go out hunting and killing young children who’s “shine” radiates brighter than most. The leader of that group, Rose The Hat, senses a young girl, named Abra Stone, and her “shine” is the most powerful she has seen in ages. But little does Rose The Hat know that Danny has been secretly talking with Abra for years and they will both need to team up to take her and the “True Knot” down once and for all.
Sounds unique and different from the concept of The Shining doesn’t it? It is, but like I said, the book is very uneven and muddles the execution of that concept. Thankfully, the movie fixes everything. While not a very scary movie, the film is shot beautifully, has great set ups and pay offs, the acting is top notch, and everything is emotionally satisfying, leading to a sequel film that I prefer over Kubrick’s film. Now, you are probably wondering why I don’t consider Kubrick’s film a “horror classic” while so many of you probably do. Read the book. Even before reading the book, the main problem with Kubrick’s film isn’t the completely different WTF ending, but mainly that everything happens way too fast for a 2 hr and 20 minute horror epic. The novel is a slow burn pot boiler, and takes its time to get to the bonkers and awesome climax/ending (probably the best ending King has ever written). The movie left me with a resounding “meh”. I didn’t much care for the hedge maze.
The character of Jack Torrence is abysmally mishandled in Kubrick’s film as well, his descent into madness and the hotel taking over his mind comes completely out of nowhere where the book beautifully makes him a more sympathetic and nicer person, his ultimate murderous temper tantrum tragically earned. The Kubrick film does have some great masterful visuals, but unfortunately the sum of those parts aren’t greater than the mishandled narrative. Jack Nicholson didn’t have much to work with, he just seems like crazy Jack Nicholson in the movie, Wendy, even though acted expertly by Shelley Duvall, felt like a forced weak and pathetic character, completely doing a 180 on her strong sense of worth in the novel, and Danny Torrence is aggressive underused in Kubrick’s film. Sorry, but even before reading the masterpiece of the novel I had a problem with the film. Reading The Shining just confirmed and contextualized those feelings.
The acting here is fantastic all across the board. Ewan McGregor is great as an adult Danny Torrence and displays great emotional “umph” when trying to deal with his “Shining” mind force (enter Star Wars joke here) powers. Newcomer Kyliegh Curran makes Abra Stone is much more detailed rich character than she was in the novel, but the scene stealer here is Rebecca Ferguson as Rose The Hat. Rose The Hat is honestly kind of a shitty villain in the novel. It seems that she is easily tricked and defeated in certain scenes in the novel and for me, she never displayed any emotions or actions that would make it seem like she could pull the rug out from under Danny and Abra’s feet. Same goes for her group, “the True Knot.” I never felt like any of them were a threat worth worrying over. Here, combined with Ferguson’s menacing and harrowing acting, Rose The Hat and “the True knot” are more of a forced to be reckoned with, even though one scene might make you feel differently. But when you realize the stipulations and who exactly is involved in that scene, you’ll figure out that it makes a lot of sense. Not to mention that scene has great tension and emotional stakes, so it cancels out my minor complaint altogether.
Also, one HUGE compliment I almost forgot to mention. As you know this is a direct sequel to Kubrick’s The Shining while being a sequel to the novel in general, so you get to see some old characters from the old movies. THANKFULLY the movie uses old school movie magic, and just cast new actors to play the old roles that look like the original actors, instead of shelling out a bunch of money to make people look like wonky CGI younger versions of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Long, or Scatman Cruthers. Loved that they did this, not a huge proponent of the de-aging tech, even though it looked pretty great in Terminator: Dark Fate, although that was only for like 30 seconds compared to the multiple minutes the characters are on screen in this film. Then again it isn’t surprising considering Mike Flanagan wrote and directed this little gem. I still need to check out The Haunting of Hill House on Netflix as I heard that is excellent as well. Not surprised of the praise, just haven’t gotten around to watching it yet.
Now, if you’ve seen any marketing for this movie, you’ll know that the spooky ooky and scary Overlook Hotel is brought back. The climax from the novel has a similar location, but if you’ve ever read The Shining and/or Doctor Sleep, you’ll know a HUGE difference from novel to film. All of that is rectified here, with an emotionally great and satisfying climax that doesn’t bog down in too much fan service, something I was dreading that was going to happen before the movie started. Writer/Director Mike Flanagan did a tremendous job with this film. This isn’t his first foray into Stephen King adaptations, he actually made a great version of Stephen King’s novel Gerald’s Game that debuted on Netflix one or two years ago, and everyone felt that that book was completely un-film-able, but he managed to do it. He does it again here. And while Doctor Sleep was easily film-able, he managed to do something rare, make the movie better than the sequel novel, and a movie that I felt was better than the original film. Very good work. And all work and all play make Zach a happy boy.