“Here’s Johnny!” We all remember those words mentioned by a Jack Nicholson completely consumed by dementia, an axe in his hand, in the masterpiece horror The Shining (1980) of the great Stanley Kubrick. This film is much more than a classic of the seventh art, it’s now a true icon of popular culture. A film of great complexity and a rare genius for some, an interpretation against the original literary work of Stephen King for others, it’s clear that The Shining has left nobody indifferent. It was 39 years later that Warner Bros. decided to adapt the sequel to Stephen King’s novel to the cinema, with the wish to continue to capitalize on the story’s success. For this task, which is substantial, what better than an established director of horror cinema like Mike Flanagan (the filmmaker behind The Haunting of Hill House and Hush) at the helm. Here is Doctor Sleep, the long-awaited sequel to Danny Torrance’s story and his telepathic powers.
Some pessimists might think at first that a sequel to a true masterpiece is a risky move that serves only to give free nostalgia to all fans of Kubrick’s work. I want to reassure you, Doctor Sleep will give you much more!
We’re almost 40 years after the horrific tragedy of the Overlook Hotel where Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson in the original movie) and his family stayed for the Winter. Sometime after the events, we learn that the young son, Danny, and his mother, Wendy, are still alive and now reside in Florida, where Danny tries to take control of the violent ghosts of the Overlook that haunt him while mastering his powers as a ‘shining’ kid. In 2019, Danny (Ewan McGregor) unfortunately has a severe alcohol problem, making it difficult for him to put his life in order. With practice, he has been able to better understand and control his supernatural abilities. Finding refuge in New Hampshire, he will meet a good citizen (Cliff Curtis) who will give him work in the palliative care wing of a hospital, where he can comfort the old and the dying.
Not far away, Danny will meet the young Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran, an excellent new child actor) who, like him, is also endowed with ultra-powerful telepathic power, or the ‘shine’. On the other hand, this incredible force will attract the attention of a sinister sect, led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson, absolutely fantastic!), whose representatives have survived through the ages by consuming from the spirit of ‘shining’ kids like Danny and Abra. They torture and kill every special child on their way to prolong their lives, which is not quite a glorifying story. Discovering the existence of this group, Danny and Abra will try as best as they can to face them by making use of their powers … while confronting their own inner demons.
I must admit it right away: Doctor Sleep is a very successful bet overall! This film is definitely one of the most captivating of 2019. I was puzzled to award it the label of horror film, but looking at some dangerously significant scenes, I confirm the status of fantastic story horrifying (yes, because magic and spirituality play a greater role than we think in that same horror). Unlike the original 1980 film, the sequel is more respectful of Stephen King’s work, making a very well-written faithful adaptation, while keeping intact the narrative pillars created by Kubrick himself. In other words, this story is a perfect mix of Kubrick’s and King’s talent and is not meant to be a pastiche of the first film to satisfy the nostalgic clientele. That’s a good thing because this new film material is excellent! Beautiful cinematography, good visual effects, music almost as exciting as in The Shining; all the good ingredients are there. In a cinematic era where everything is accelerated and where the camera does not always give enough room to allow the characters to breathe, you will spend long moments familiarizing yourself with the heroes and foes before their journeys converge. The scenes are long and poetic to allow us to attach ourselves to these characters, who are all rather fascinating. Apart from the winks to the first film (quite repetitive at the end), the horror of Doctor Sleep will mark you for a long time, including a horrible scene with the young Jacob Tremblay and the monologue of Rose The Hat when she’s mounting a rather famous staircase (wink wink)! Considering the paranormal nature of the story, some scenes taking place in dreams and the subconscious are splendid.
The entire cast is impressive considering that it is unfair to compare them to the iconic performances of Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall. On the other hand, I was very surprised to discover that the biggest talent behind Doctor Sleep is … Rebecca Ferguson! This British actress made popular with the Mission: Impossible movies now has (perhaps) her best role in her career, with the terrifying and evil Rose The Hat. Her face may seem innocent, but her presence on the screen will always give you some chills and discomfort, making her the most prominent figure of the cast. Ewan McGregor, still very good, has decided to introduce a more stoical Danny Torrance, which does not make his performance quite as memorable, while the young Kyliegh Curran is a new revelation.
That being said, perfection is not a constant thing here. The narrative rhythm is sometimes disjointed during the long first act and at the very end, during the third act, quite excessive and chaotic. For fans of the first film, you will wait desperately for the outcome, where the characters will return to the place you know so well. However, despite my thirst for nostalgia that was partly filled, the whole is dotted with too many winks from the first film, making the conclusion chaotic, almost clumsy. Given the rest of the film is well put together, I can accept the chaos after a while. Without revealing too much, several critics will also address Mike Flanagan’s decision not to have used archival footage of the first film or even used technology for rejuvenating actors, making some key scenes more or less effective, something we’ll talk about in a few days in another piece. All in all, some minor flaws for a very good movie; Mike Flanagan is very much at the top of his game.
Both for fans of the work of Kubrick and also for the fierce advocates of the original work from King, this sequel should normally suit everyone. For a film of 150 minutes, everything will pass rather quickly for the great interest you will have for the characters. It would be rather unfair to compare this film to its predecessor because the two are so different and nothing will dislodge the symbolic place occupied by The Shining. To fully appreciate this sequel, I recommend you watch the movie with patience and reflexion, without much expectations about what you would like to see. It’s a very different film from the classic you love so much, but this also brings up interesting links with some characters almost 40 years old, notably the interesting parallel between Jack and Danny Torrance in terms of
their love of booze. For sensitive hearts, you are warned, it’s not an easy watch all the way through.
If it were for me, I would give Rebecca Ferguson a nomination for her role in Doctor Sleep, but it will probably have to wait a little longer before seeing horror movies honoured at the Oscars in this way.
With that being said, “Hello Danny … .come play with us … forever … and ever”.