Welcome to today’s installment of 31 Days of Halloween! This is our chance to set the mood for the spookiest and scariest month of the year as we focus our attention on horror and Halloween fun. For the month of October we’ll be talking to creators working in horror and share and recommend various pieces of underappreciated scary media-books, comics, movies, and television-to help keep you terrified and entertained all the way up to Halloween.
Director Mike Flannagan stepped into a minefield. Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining. The movie adaptation of The Shining is loved by many fans and critics and hated by the author. Not only is he working on a Stephen King adaptation, it is a sequel to a story released decades ago. Then there are the judging eyes of a zealous fanbase and an outspoken author paying very close attention. Doctor Sleep is more than just another King book turned movie.
Doctor Sleep continues where The Shining left off. Dan Torrance is all grown up, but remains traumatized by what happened at the Overlook Hotel. He has spent his life trying to forget his past. Along the way, he has picked up his father’s worst habits. Just when he seems to be getting his life back on track, he is brought into a new struggle.
King has always done a great job of creating villains. Names like Pennywise and Annie Wilkes are an important part of horror history. King has added to his creative legacy with Rose the Hat. Rose has qualities possessed by the best baddies. She carries herself with a supreme confidence, is overflowing with charm, and seems to care for her clan, the True Knot. She is also sinister and manipulative. Rose definitely deserves a place among the pantheon of elegant evil doers.
There are many good performances in Doctor Sleep, but Rebecca Ferguson’s portrayal of Rose is the highlight. Ferguson gives the character the right amount of grace while still making it clear she is not someone to be angered. Ferguson also never tries to make the character likable. Rose is a bad person, short and simple.
Rose is one of the more interesting antagonists in modern fiction. The balance of power is shifted in Doctor Sleep. At first, it would appear that Rose is incredibly powerful. While that is certainly the case, she is no match for Abra Stone, a young girl with the shining. Abra is constantly able to outsmart and overpower her would-be kidnapper.
It is a dynamic that should not work. One of the most important parts of any story is its central conflict. Often, this is created by a villain who the heroes fear. This adds tension to the plot and gives the audience a reason to pay attention. It is a risky decision, but Doctor Sleep flips the traditional roles.
Even more surprisingly, the movie is able to get away with it for a time. The story initially focuses on Danny and how he has been affected. Watching him face his problems is a plot point that remains important throughout the entire movie. Ewan McGregor does an excellent job as the now adult Danny. He is someone that audiences will want to root for.
The initial pacing of the film also helps. While not as slow as the original, the movie does move at a methodical pace. All the while, it establishes characters and motives. This is especially important since there is so much source material to work with. Having the first two thirds of the movie play out as tense cat and mouse in which no one truly knows what is happening keeps the audience invested.
By the third act, things become tedious, however. Abra is not only very powerful, she never shows any fear. It is one thing for the protagonist to be the strongest character. That is a normal trope in Chosen One type stories. But for the character to shrug off everything from battles to death takes all the fun out of the story. If the main character has nothing to worry about, then why even watch?
Anticlimactic fights and speeding up the story also hurt Doctor Sleep. There are some neat twists involving the shining, but the last thirty minutes go by in a blur. After taking its time building the world, the movie decides to spit everything out in rapid fire succession. It never gets bad, but it is very disappointing.
Following up a classic like Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining is no easy feat. The movie is found on numerous best of lists and casts a large shadow. Doctor Sleep starts off well. The cast do a great job and the story is engaging. Unfortunately, a lack of tension and a poorly paced third act make it a fun, if unmemorable, watch.
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