By John H. Foote
Mike Flanagan had an enormous task ahead of him when he agreed to make this film. On one hand, he was adapting the best selling novel by the great Stephen King which had been written as a sequel to the novel The Shining. On the other hand, he was creating a sequel to a classic, much-loved film from Stanley Kubrick which could not be ignored. To pretend the film did not exist would have been sacrilegious to horror fans and those who love Kubrick’s film, The Shining (1980). It must be remembered that King was a vocal opponent to Kubrick’s film, voicing his dislike for the film in the press consistently for decades.
In creating Doctor Sleep, Flanagan merges the book and film, making clear the previous film existed, and indeed he pays homage to Kubrick’s chilly and chilling film.
Years have passed and Danny Torrance has learned to control his gift of Shining. Now an adult, portrayed by Ewan McGregor, like his father he struggles with alcohol. Does he drink to fight his gift, or does his gift force him to drink? After working eight years in a hospice where his gifts help him guide the elderly passing onto the next life, he has been clean. But out of the blue, he gets a very powerful message from a young girl who has a powerful shine.
Meanwhile, a group of marauding misfits calling themselves the True Knot, led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) move from town to town feeding off the essence of children who shine. In one town they kidnap a young baseball player with the shining, portrayed by Jacob Tremblay and brutally torture and murder him in the woods. His misery and screams provide a greater feed for Rose and her minions. They bury him in the woods, but the young girl sending Dan messages, Abra (Ashleigh Curran) locks onto them and Rose becomes aware of the young girls staggering power. Knowing they could turn her and feed off her for years, Rose is fearful, if the girl resists she could destroy them all. She decides Abra must die.
Abra reaches out to Dan for help, and of course, he responds.
Is there any doubt where the final confrontation must take place? High in the Colorado mountains sits the condemned, rundown and rotting Overlook Hotel. Dan takes Abra there believing Rose the Hat will follow. Wandering the halls of the haunted hotel, the ghosts reach out to Dan, the Grady twins, Lloyd the unblinking bartender, Mr. Grady, even Jack, his father. Is Dan strong enough to ward off the impact of seeing ghosts that were partly responsible for taking away his childhood and father? Can Rose consume the ghosts and become more powerful or can Abra and Dan battle it out together?
The entire film builds towards the moments in the Overlook and the first time we see it, our breath stops. Such horrors lurk in the sprawling place, images that drove Dan’s father into murderous madness. We feel it as Dan walks the familiar halls in the haunted Gold Room, and as he stares through the smashed door his father burst through greeting Wendy with “Here’s Johnny!” There is so much déjà vu associated with the frightening Overlook.
Incredibly the very image of the Overlook might be the most frightening image in the film if it were not for Rose the Hat.
In the book, her character is underwritten but on film, this actress brings to life a charismatic monster capable of unspeakable horrors. Ferguson is superb as a smiling psychopath, centuries years old who depends on human suffering to stay alive. She thrives on inflicting horrors and misery, lives for it. This is a profoundly terrifying performance, the finest in the film from a fast-rising actress. Ferguson radiates danger, menace and genuine dread with each appearance, movement, and glance. She is the absolute personification of evil in every possible aspect. The actress gives the film a huge electrical jolt of pure energy each time she appears. Stunning and terrifying.
McGregor is just so bland as Dan, boring, uninteresting in every way. Haunted by memories, unsure of what to do with his gift, there is so much for him to work with but he chooses to underplay, or not play it at all. It got to the point I dreaded seeing him on screen again.
Curran, as Abra is superb, a powerful child who does not yet understand the entirety of her gift, but it is becoming clearer to her with each passing day. The terror that encompasses her when she feels or sees the torture, murder, and burial of the young ballplayer is beautifully acted with great feeling, soulful. Like Ferguson, she is absolutely present in the film, even when having nothing to work within her scenes with McGregor.
I will not say much about the character Henry Thomas portrays, but he is outstanding in a brief cameo which reminds us of the dark, unsettling powers of the Overlook. Sorry, no spoilers.
In the end, I was disappointed with the film, most of all because of McGregor who seems to be catatonic or uninterested. Where the sequences with little Danny and Wendy Torrance necessary? Was the scene with Dick Halloran, murdered by Torrance in The Shining really something that had to be there?
What I did like was Ferguson as Rose the Hat, one of the most fearsome, original characters I have experienced in a horror film.
But the film?
Disappointing and a pale shadow of The Shining (1980).
One of Canada’s best-known film critics, he spent 10 years on TV as co-host of Reel to Real, and another 10 in education (still writing as a critic) as Director of the Toronto Film School, where he created the curriculum for three programs and taught film history. Film has always been his passion. He has written for magazines such as Toronto Life, Fashion and Hollywood North, been quoted in the Los Angeles and New York Times, as well as the major Toronto dailies. Online he has written for such sites as The Wrap, In Contention, Awards Circuit and The Cinemaholic. His first book Clint Eastwood – Evolution of a Filmmaker, was published in 2010. His second Steven Spielberg: American Film Visionary, a massive volume, has just found a publisher and he’s working on American Film Renaissance – 1967-2018 with Nick Maylor. As a critic, he has had the good fortune to interview directors and stars such as Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola, Clint Eastwood, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks, Tom Cruise, Robert Duvall, Emma Stone, Jane Fonda, and countless others. As he quips, “Everyone but Jack Nicholson!”