Movie Guru: Fans of ‘The Shining’ will love ‘Doctor Sleep,’ but the movie itself is disorganized
Rated R for disturbing and violent content, some bloody images, language, nudity and drug use
Screenplay by Mike Flanagan
Based on the novel by Stephen King
Directed by Mike Flanagan
Starring Rebecca Ferguson, Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran, Jacob Tremblay, Carel Struycken, Cliff Curtis, Emily Alyn Lind, Henry Thomas and more
Grade: Two stars out of four
If you loved “The Shining,” you’re probably going to enjoy “Doctor Sleep.”
But for the rest of us, the answer to the question, “is ‘Doctor Sleep’ any good?” becomes a bit less simple.
Though the characters and concept are good, a clunky adaptation makes the story itself seem scattered and shallow.
Ewan McGregor, Kyliegh Curran and Rebecca Ferguson manage to give the movie a solid core, but director Mike Flanagan keeps forgetting to focus on it. Though the ending is excellent, everything that comes before feels scattered and oddly shallow.
The movie starts immediately after “The Shining,” showing the young boy trying to fight off lingering ghosts. He grows up wrestling with alcoholism and violence but finds peace working at a hospice. When a young girl with power is targeted by an evil group of equally powerful people, his peace is shattered. Does he continue denying his power or fight to help her?
At first glance, the movie seems to suffer from the usual adaptation problem of following too closely to the book. It has that same overly summarized feel, where supporting characters zoom by in rushed scenes that you know had more depth and resonance in the book. Novels have time to develop side stories and subplots more fully, while movies require a greater focus on the heart of the story.
Clearly, though, Flanagan had no trouble diverging from the original book.
The ending is pretty different, and the movie version manages to be both impactful and highly cinematic. This will also be the favorite part for fans of “The Shining,” jam-packed with visual, audio and narrative cues to the first movie.
It also has a sense of narrative focus found nowhere else in the movie. Flanagan seems oddly obsessed with a minor character named Snakebite Andi, devoting a ton of screentime to her backstory even though it has zero impact on anything else that happens. He doesn’t even bother finishing off any kind of character arc for her, only one of several subplots and revelations that are abruptly dropped over the course of the film.
One thing Flanagan unfortunately does make time for is the slow, agonizing death of a young boy. He lingers on the pain the kid feels, if not exactly the torture itself, and it’s deeply disturbing to watch. He also lingers on a later scene where our heroes find his corpse, lingering on discussion of its scent and how hard it was for the men not to puke.
Sadly, there were so many other things to devote that wasted screentime to.
McGregor does a great job at communicating his character’s pain, but the movie only gives him a few scenes to do it in. His and Curran’s characters have a lovely, understated bond, but the movie hardly gives us any chance to see it develop. Ferguson imbues her character with wonderful power and snakelike magnetism, but we hardly hear anything about her backstory.
If you want any of that, you should probably read Steven King’s book.
Jenniffer Wardell is an award-winning movie critic and member of the Denver Film Critics Society. Find her on Twitter at @wardellwriter or drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.