I weirdly feel like I’m talking about Stephen King all the time on this site lately, partly because of his insane rate of releasing novels, and partly because of the staggering amount of adaptations that are being made of his work. Ever since the first It film came out and did amazingly at the box office it’s been a veritable Stephen King gold-rush, with people adapting even the most wild and forgotten of King’s novels, all attempting to cash in on the trend. And, by and large, things have been going pretty good. I don’t know if it’s because visual effects have caught up to create some of the more insane images from King’s novels, or if it’s just that more passionate creators are getting the chance to adapt their favorite stories, but by and large these adaptations have been better than normal. But, this has also resulted in creators taking stabs at some really shaky novels. Such as Doctor Sleep. Now, I never read Doctor Sleep, primarily because everyone I knew who did said it was really bad and not to waste my time, but also because I really didn’t think that a sequel to the Shining was overly necessary. And, I then promptly forgot about the book, until it was announced that Mike Flanagan was going to be adapting it to the big screen. And, after the Haunting of Hill House and Gerald’s Game, I’ve kind of gained quite a bit of faith in Flanagan as a creator who is able to adapt things that really don’t seem like good ideas. And that curiosity was greatly increased when it became clear that Flanagan was not only adapting Doctor Sleep, but also directly making a sequel to the Stanley Kubrick adaptation of the Shining, borrowing that films art direction and music. It was a pretty audacious undertaking, almost certainly too much to make work. And yet, I really found myself enjoying Doctor Sleep. It’s weird as hell though.
Doctor Sleep begins shortly after the events of the Shining, with Danny and Wendy Torrence moving to Florida to forget their horrible nightmare, only for Danny to continue being stalked by the ghosts of the Overlook Hotel. But, after some advice from the ghost of Dick Halloran, Danny’s mentor, he’s able to lock the ghosts away, going about his life. And this takes the form of becoming a hardcore alcoholic, attempting to ignore his Shine, while also forgetting his horrible past. But, Danny eventually hits rock bottom in a small town in New Hampshire, where he’s taken under the wing of a gregarious recovering alcoholic named Billy Freeman. The two become fast friends, and Danny is able to get sober, spending eight years leading a fairly normal life. Except for the fact that he has acquired a psychic pen-pal, a young girl named Abra who also has the Shining, and who spends the ensuing eight years occasionally chatting with Danny. However, things take a turn when Abra is able to use her abilities to learn about a group of people known as the True Knot. They too have Shining powers, although they refer to it as Steam, and they’ve discovered virtual immortality, all stemming from consuming the souls of killed people with Shine powers. And, their leader Rose the Hat is able to notice Abra, deciding to come for her and absorb her vast powers.
Abra reaches out to Danny, and ends up meeting him in his smal town. Danny warns Abra against meddling with other people with the Shining, but she continues to peek in on Rose, causing the True Knot to be sent out to find and kill her. Danny manages to get Billy on board with the whole thing, and the two manage to find real evidence of the True Knot, and another visit from Dick Halloran convinces Danny to do the right thing, and protect Abra. Danny and Billy come up with a plan than manages to kill almost all of the True Knot members, at the expense of Billy’s life, but they still lose Rose and her second-in-command, Crow Daddy. Crow manages to abduct Abra, but Danny uses his abilities to take control of Crow’s car, killing him and saving Abra. The two then realize that Rose is going to chase them down and destroy them, so Danny suggests they do something very dangerous. He takes Abra to the abandoned Overlook Hotel, hoping that the dangerous ghosts that live there will be able to help defeat Rose. She arrives at the Hotel after Danny wakes the evil hotel back up, and after a drag-out fight he ends up freeing all the terrible ghosts he’s trapped over the decades, letting them devour Rose. But, they then turn on Danny, taking control of him like they did his father so many years previous. The Hotel has Danny attack Abra, but she ends up connecting with him, giving him the chance to destroy the Hotel by blowing up the boiler, destroying the Overlook forever, at the expense of his own life. But, Abra is safe, and ready to continue her life.
I really wasn’t sure what to expect from this movie. As I said, I hadn’t ever read Doctor Sleep, and really only have a vague understanding of the plot of the book. I kind of knew that it was about people who killed other people with the Shining, and other than that, not much. Obviously, the book is probably pretty different, since there are some big differences between the Shining novel and film, primarily the fact that the book ends with the Overlook being blown to smithereens while Wendy and Danny escape with a living Dick. But, none of that really matters, because Mike Flanagan decided to do the craziest thing possible, and also link this directly into Stanley Kubrick’s film, going so far as to recreating sets of the Overlook, using the same music, and having actors replicate the looks and performances of the original actors in the film. It’s not a perfect translation, especially the guy playing Jack Nicholson, but I’m kind of shocked at how well it works. The movie is weird as hell, getting downright silly at times with Rose the Hat and her gang of weird soul vampires, but Flanagan has a staggering ability at making the dumbest concepts work far better than they should. And that’s really put into effect with this film. It’s heavy with weird lore, it tries to do justice to one of the most beloved horror films of all time, and it manages to meld horror with King’s more fantasy-tinged storytelling tics, all of which should have led to a complete mess of a movie. And, there seems to be plenty of people who view it as that. But, this movie clicked with me. It’s weird, it’s spooky, and it’s a lot of fun while doing some really interesting things with a character I never really thought too much about.
Danny Torrence is a character that I’ve always found the least interesting from the Shining. Obviously Jack is the most captivating of the three, giving us an embodiment of alcoholism and obsession, which gradually gives way to the worst desires in human nature, and Wendy is a really engaging and tragic figure, a woman doing everything to keep her family from falling apart, in the face of true horror. But, Danny is just this weird little magical boy who is caught in the middle of a ghost story. And yet, this film really shows Danny Torrence as the tragic figure that he really is. He went through a legitimate horror story, and had to live his life with that. He saw his father be consumed by his demons, literalized in a terrifying way, and has to try and find a way through his life. It makes sense that he would hide away his powers, since the one time that he really gained a semblance of control over them was the most traumatic moment of his life. Why would he ever want to revisit those days, or use the powers that are so linked with them? But, when Abra comes to him he realizes that what he’s doing is selfish. He’s cleaned his life up, but he still hasn’t confronted the horrors of his past, and that fear is keeping him from helping someone in need. But, he ends up accepting his duty, accepting his flaws, and realizing that he needs to literally confront the ghosts of his past in order to protect someone in the way that he was protected when he was younger. He had been given the burden of duty, and he doesn’t break under that strain, finally showing that he’s defeated his past.
Doctor Sleep was written and directed by Mike Flanagan and released by Warner Bros. Pictures, 2019.
Categories: Reel Talk