Nominations: Best Movie, Best Supporting Actress (2X), Best Director, Best Score
Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Alex Essoe, Zahn McClarnon, Carl Lumbly, Emily Alyn Lind, Jacob Tremblay
Writer: Mike Flanagan, Stephen King
Director: Mike Flanagan
Production Companies: Warner Bros., Intrepid Pictures, Vertigo Entertainment
DOCTOR SLEEP (2019) is admittedly not my cup of tea. THE SHINING (1980) is one of my favorite horror films of all time, and the art and eye of Stanley Kubrick holds a special place in my heart. It was extremely difficult not to compare the work of Mike Flanagan to the genius of Kubrick, simply because of the ties DOCTOR SLEEP makes to its predecessor. Any director would get lost in Kubrick’s shadow, and Flanagan was no different. There’s a saying that goes something like, “never remind your audience of a better movie that they could be watching,” and that’s where I felt DOCTOR SLEEP fell short.
That said, the movie is nominated for 5 BTS Awards within 4 categories, so a lot of peeps see some great value within this production. If not for my tunnel vision adoration for Kubrick, it’s very possible that I’d find more enjoyment in this. As it stands, I think the cast does well with the material given and the music most certainly helps the tone. It’s only the storyline, characters, costumes, flashbacks, special effects and dialogue that I dislike.
The movie begins with a little girl who has the Shining. She is beckoned over to a lake by a psychic, nutter-butter in a hat named Rose (Rebecca Ferguson). In a scene reminiscent of FRANKENSTEIN (1931), she uses flowers to amuse the young child, but Rose’s intentions are awful. She’s a whack job that leads a cult called True Knot. She and her followers kill people who have the Shining to absorb their psychic powers via steam. As the steam starts running out, the cult becomes desperate.
Meanwhile, grown-up Danny (Ewan McGregor) is a dick. He gets drunk and into bar fights. He then goes home with a crazy cokehead and robs her in the morning, despite her having a toddler to feed. Soon, he has an epiphany that he’s a shit, trash-bag person. He goes to AA and tries to turn his life around. Danny’s sponsor Billy (Cliff Curtis) helps him with an apartment and eventually assists eradicating the True Knot cult.
Danny, now sober, begins receiving telepathic messages from Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a young girl who has the same ability as him, only magnified. Rose is after her and her Shining steam.
In the end, crazy hat lady and Danny have a showdown at the Overlook Hotel. Seeing the hotel again was pretty badass, and there were several great moments. Most notably, Danny and Rose’s recreation of Wendy (Shelley Duvall) and Jack’s (Jack Nicholson) brilliant ax scene, stands out as gripping and edge-of-the-seat entertainment.
Though, I believe there were more deserving choices for the Best Director nomination, I aim to be fair. With that in mind, there are several small details that Flanagan incorporated which shows he does hold appreciation for Kubrick’s vision. Genuinely, I appreciate and enjoy the nods to the original, but too often Flanagan utilized those visuals as nothing more than easter eggs. Call me greedy, but I wanted a lot more.
I will also give Flanagan some points for having big, brass balls. To dare make a straight-up continuation to any Kubrick film takes some real cojones, and Flanagan’s no dummy. He knows assholes like me are ready to get riled with any misstep. We’re a finnicky bunch of bitches when it comes to anyone coming close to our old school treasures that we grew up with. We Gen Xers are extremely nostalgic and love discussing the horror films of yesteryear, but many of us also want our classics to remain untouched and unsullied by modern filmmaking.
Despite my disdain for DOCTOR SLEEP, I really enjoy some of Flanagan’s other work so I know he’s a very talented director. OCULUS (2013) is criminally underrated and OUIJA ORIGIN OF EVIL (2016) puts the original to shame. The point is the man has some serious skills, and maybe I would see those clearer here if I wasn’t so clouded by my own hang-ups. Hey, I never said I was perfect. Sexy? Yes! Perfect? Not even close.
Whereas I have some difficulty understanding the appeal that secured DOCTOR SLEEP’s nod for Best Movie, I have zero difficulty understanding the appeal of both Rebecca Ferguson and Kyliegh Curran as Best Supporting Actresses, albeit for different reasons.
Rebecca Ferguson portrays the main antagonist Rose the Hat. As much as I dislike the character and her costumes, Ferguson does everything within her power to sell the performance. There are times that I find the dialogue cringeworthy, but Ferguson makes it more palatable. On paper, Rose should have been a laughingstock. She’s not scary, she looks like she belongs in Tim Burton’s wet dream and her need for psychic steam is a bit weird. Still, Ferguson has a gravitas to her. She owns the odd attire and the silly words she has to speak. She’s fierce in her strangeness and does everything within her power to not fall into caricature mode.
Contrastingly, Kyliegh Curran is one of the main protagonists and portrays a very likable character. In fact, Abra is one of the only likable characters in the whole movie. Billy’s cool shit, too, but otherwise we’re dealing with loser central. Nearly everyone is a dirtbag, and that makes Curran’s contributions as an empathetic, strong and intelligent young lady all the more imperative. We need someone who is wholly good and isn’t yet destroyed with the gift of the Shining. She’s tough and willing to help. She’s not a stupid naïve kid and she recognizes the danger, but still she’s a hero at heart. Had the story followed Abra more closely, the film would have benefited greatly and been separated enough from the original where comparisons could be avoided. Curran really rose above what she was given and stole each scene she was in.
Lastly, the music is stellar and has an old school feel to it. It was creepy in the right places and added a much-needed level of apprehension and worry in the viewers.
In the end, DOCTOR SLEEP is not for me, but for those who love it and voted for it– good luck on award night!