I haven’t read the novel. I haven’t read any of King’s texts. Everything I know about The Shining and now, the Doctor Sleep story is through these two movies – The Shining (obviously) and Doctor Sleep – Director’s Cut. Why they thought saving half an hour worth of footage was best suited for a home media release is not something my brain can preoccupy itself with. Point is, this is the definitive Doctor Sleep version for me, just like the original The Shining motion picture. That film doesn’t have a director’s cut as far as I’m concerned. Nor does it need one.
It does not have the best of the beginnings, Doctor Sleep. The opening act sets up creepiness and mystery in equal parts but once they bring in the CGI-infused scares – everything feels cheap. You’ve already lost interest. And it doesn’t even give you the good kind of campy-horror feeling you can expect from a Sam Raimi flick. This one is supposed to take itself seriously. And it does. But miscalculates on where to infuse the seriousness. Here I was, genuinely interested in Rebecca Ferguson acting out a role cast-against-type, but someone (corporate, or perhaps King himself) kept pushing in Shining references and callbacks with actors who don’t even resemble the original cast. Their performances are impressive, but this is my first impression – Why is a completely unrelated mythology, something that was never hinted at and previously unexplored, forming a basis of this new tale? Why should I bother myself when I know I am not going to like how this ends? But the story-line keeps on progressing.
The 3-hour Doctor Sleep Director’s Cut version can be summed up as a horror-epic that uses Stanley Kubrick’s excellently-directed horror as a foundation, pays an appropriate homage to it whenever possible, and employs the universe to set up and deliver a consistent, albeit at times, faltering tale. It is all a balancing act – juggling camp, creepy and straight-up disturbing imagery at the same time. Mike Flanagan’s script manages to tackle some poignant themes with the inclusion of the original Shining characters. Sadly, since everyone has aged since 1977, we’re left with trained stage actors who thankfully don’t make me want to wish Jack Nicholson was a young man again. Bold choice, not going with mo-cap and the de-aging technology available these days. I’m not complaining.
Apart from the substitute Hallorann, kid and mother Torrance, we’ve got Ewan McGregor as a suitable, adult Danny Torrance, now a bottomed-out individual. While I’m eager to see him in something other than the daily Prequel Memes that fester on reddit, Ewan doesn’t get many chances to crank out a standout performance. What you’re expecting and getting is a functional lead performance, completely unsuited for a horror. There is a quiet bar-sequence at the end in the dilapidated Overlook Hotel where we see the range of General Kenobi which was previously missing in the entire movie but the role of an adult Danny Torrance is not something I’ll remember McGregor for. Sadly, not a lot of meme potential here.
What I will remember is Rebecca Ferguson’s get-under-the-skin creepy yet strangely arousing performance as Rose the Hat. Now, this feels like an antagonist from the mind of Stephen King, the world-renowned horror author, and not author-who-saw-an-opportunity-to-make-money-by-unnecessarily-expanding-his-own-acclaimed-story-lines. The lore behind the True Knot is something that could be explored more and fleshed out but Flanagan and King make the smart choice by leaving out a little bit of mystery. There are times in the beginning when you don’t know where the multiple story-lines are going, but the threads being connected at the middle and resolving at the end bring everything to a satisfying conclusion.
Doctor Sleep is a complete horror experience bolstered by superb performances from a more-than-competent cast. Written and directed to uneven perfection by Mike Flanagan. This film annoys The Shining reverer in me, and chances are it will annoy you too. And it does make lots of bad choices by sound-tracking over the prequel’s base score. It is an unnecessary rainbow sprinkle on your ice-cream cone, but I for one, don’t mind biting in with my sensitive teeth.
Rating – 3.5/5