King Tries to Give Kubrick a Shiner

Doctor Sleep Is a Just-Okay Reclamation Project


Doctor Sleep is a poor reflection of the original film, but at least it made Stephen King feel better.

The Shining remains a perfect masterpiece, which totally sucks. This is because no movie can possibly be good enough to justify Stanley Kubrick’s literal torture of Shelley Duvall. We still live under the gaslit delusion that talented artists should get to abuse whoever they want. So, say this much for Doctor Sleep: It is likely not the byproduct of cruelty excused by “genius.” That is not an insignificant point of comparison for a wildly mediocre film that is otherwise devoid of any semblance of purpose.

It makes total sense why Stephen King was motivated to write a sequel to The Shining. His personal addiction metaphor was turned into a cinematic critique that chose to hold the man accountable and not merely his affliction. His attempt to fully reclaim the work necessitated an eventual film adaptation, which is why Doctor Sleep is more obsessed with repossessing the most well-known horror iconography of all time than with introducing anything meaningfully new, other than the world’s stupidest hat. More on that later.

Doctor Sleep picks up just after the worst hotel stay not involving the use of blacklight. A young Danny is still haunted by the saggy mammaries of the bathtub ghost and her friends. He gets taught by his dead friend Dick (Carl Lumbly) how to imprison the spirits in mental coffins, deploying the kind of alarm-bell foreshadowing subtlety that mars much of King’s writing. Years later, Danny is now Dan (Ewan McGregor) and is also a raging alcoholic. He ricochets off rock bottom to find a small community that embraces him, where he takes on a role that lets him use his telepathy to comfort dying hospice patients.

A young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who has all kind of crazy mind powers, catches the eye of a pack of monsters who feed on said powers. Their leader is Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who dresses in stereotypically racist “gypsy” jokes woven into fabric. Her hat is so profoundly dumb that it is the single scariest thing about the main villain. In case you couldn’t guess, Dan must atone for his alcoholic misdeeds by protecting Abra from the monster people in a series of scenes with cinematography that screams “Hey, remember that other, much better movie that this is a sequel to?”

McGregor is his usual affably sensitive self, Curran delivers a shockingly nuanced performance for a young teenager, and Ferguson’s talent cannot overcome being forced to wear Frosty the Snowman’s headgear. As he did much better in Netflix’s Haunting of Hill House, writer/director Mike Flanagan again shows his desire to explore big human emotions while inside the horror genre. The most haunting chunk of the film is McGregor quietly seated beside the bedridden elderly, ferrying them to the beyond.

The worst part of Doctor Sleep, other than the hat, is gruesome child murder, a King trademark. The next-next worst part is King’s muddled further explanation of the powers at work. Apparently, if you have ESP juju, it’s called “the steam,” and when you die, you burp it out, and others can eat it. The film isn’t outright “saved” by a third act that relies entirely on the work of its superior cinematic predecessor, but it is nudged from neutral-bad to neutral-good by it.

King has publicly stated that he feels the new film “redeems” Kubrick’s Shining. That’s impossible, unless it summoned Kubrick’s ghost in a séance and made the apparition apologize to Duvall. All Doctor Sleep really did was serve up modest entertainment and make King feel better. Shine on, you crazy cubic zirconium.

Grade = B-


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