Sunday, December 1, 2019

It Came From The Cineplex: Doctor Sleep

Doctor Sleep was written and directed by Mike Flanagan.

Flanagan previously wrote and directed a series of mediocre horror films, such as Absentia, Oculus, Hush, Before I Wake, Ouija: Origin Of Evil, Dobaara: See Your Evil and Gerald's Game (which was also based on a Stephen King story). Now that's a resume, and tells you everything you need to know about his level of talent.

The movie's based on the Stephen King novel of the same name. Interestingly, King wrote Doctor Sleep as a sequel to his book The Shining, as well as the 1980 Stanley Kubrick film. Which was probably no small feat, since the book and movie have very different endings. 

Flanagan even admitted this, saying, "Reconciling those three, at times very different, sources has been kind of the most challenging and thrilling part of this creatively for us."

Seems odd to me that Stephen King would acknowledge the movie in any way, since he's literally spent the last thirty nine years badmouthing it. He's criticized every aspect of the production, from the script down to Kubrick's direction. In particular he's been very vocal about the casting in the film, saying Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson were completely wrong for their parts. Why he'd write a novel that even recognizes the movie, I have no idea.

If ever there was a movie DID NOT need a sequel, it's The Shining. Maybe Titanic. Or Schindler's List. The Shining is one of the most beloved genre movies of all time, and is considered the gold standard of horror films. It takes a lot of chutzpah— or even outright lunacy— to try and top it. Heck, it'd be nearly impossible to even equal it!

Stephen King stated he wrote Doctor Sleep because he needed a new boat payment, er, I mean because his publisher backed up a truckload of money to his house, er, I mean because he wondered what happened to Danny Torrance after he grew up.

And therein lies the problem with this movie, and likely the book on which is based— we don't need to know what happens to Danny. He survived a terrifying ordeal in The Shining, and King should have dropped the mic and walked away then and there. 

Writing about his further adventures is a losing proposition. If he has a second, even more terrifying experience, then it lessens and diminishes The Shining. And if this new situation doesn't top the original, then why the hell are we bothering with it?

Even worse, Doctor Sleep feels like a standard Siffy Channel horror film with a few elements from The Shining grafted onto it. In fact you could remove every single reference to the original film and it wouldn't change Doctor Sleep's basic plot one iota. In fact I think I'd have like'd it better if it was it's own animal.

And ultimately, it just plain isn't scary, which is a big problem for a so-called horror film. The Shining had its share of frightening moments, but on the whole it wasn't terribly scary either. But it did feature an overall sense of menace and quiet dread, that permeated every frame of the film. 

Sadly, Doctor Sleep doesn't even manage that. It's a bland and generic tale about hippie vampires or something that goes nowhere and means nothing.

Apparently the majority of movie-goers agree, as Doctor Sleep is a box office disappointment. It's grossed just $67 million worldwide against its $55 million budget. Heck, it's probably already disappeared from theaters before I could get the review up.


The Plot:
This is a long-ass movie, so I'm gonna attempt to condense as much as possible. It won't work, but I'll try.

In 1981, a young girl named Violet Hansen wanders away from her family's campsite. She encounters an odd woman named Rose The Hat, who lures her down into the sewer, er, I mean dazzles her with magic tricks. Victoria notices some odd people lurking behind the trees, and Rose says they're just her friends. She says Victoria has special magic inside her, and suddenly she and the others attack.

In Florida, young Danny Torrance and his mother Wendy are trying to get over the ordeal they went through in The Shining
 Danny's still having nightmares about the evil ghosts he encountered at the Overlook Hotel, and is even seeing them haunting his new home. Wendy's concerned that Danny hasn't spoken since they left Colorado.

The ghost of Danny's friend Dick Hallorann appears, to remind everyone how much they miss Scatman Crothers. He teaches Danny how to use his powers (aka "the Shine") to trap the ghosts inside a psychic box in his mind so they can no longer hurt him.

That night, Danny enters his bathroom, where he sees the ghost of the Tub Lady (from The Shining) beckoning to him. He traps her in a mind box and is seemingly fine afterwards. He even starts talking again. The End. Well, that was

Cut to 2011. Danny, who now goes by Dan (played by Ewan McGregor) is a raging alcoholic living in New Jersey. He drinks excessively to suppress his psychic powers, and drifts from town to town and job to job.

Meanwhile, Rose The Hat (who hasn't aged a day since 1981) and her second in command Crow Daddy approach a teen named Andi, who also Shines and is able to make people do whatever she says. For some reason, instead of consuming her psychic "Steam" they recruit her into their cult, called The True Knot. Rose promises "Snakebite Andi" that if she stays with them she'll eat well, stay young and live long.

Rose and the others, including Grampa Flick (played by Carel Struycken) initiate Andi into their cult. They open a metal canister containing the powerful Steam of Violet Hansen, which I guess they've had in storage for the past thirty years. Rose feeds it to Andi, while the other True Knotters get an energizing whiff of it. Andi writhes and screams, eventually becoming a psychic vampire like the others.

In New Hampshire, five year old Abra Stone uses her Shine to make spoons float to the ceiling, which disturbs her parents greatly. Don't worry, this scene'll make sense later on.

Dan also arrives in New Hampshire, hoping to start a new life. He's befriended by a local named Billy Freeman (played by Cliff Curtis) who finds him a place to stay and invites him to an AA meeting. There he meets a Dr. Dalton, who offers him a job as an orderly at a local hospice.

One night Dan's mopping floors in the hospice. He notices the facility's live-in cat Azzie sneak into the room of an elderly man. Dan knows that the cat can sense when someone's going to die, so he enters the room. Inside is an elderly man who knows his time's up and is afraid of dying. Dan psychically comforts the man, telling him it's just like going to sleep. The man nicknames him "Doctor Sleep" (Houston, we have a title!) and promptly dies.

Dan returns to his room, where he finds the word "HELLO" written on the wall-sized chalkboard. He writes "HI" underneath. We then see Abra in her room, as she's somehow using her powers to cause the messages to appear on the wall.

We then jump ahead another eight years to the present day. Dan's still clean and sober and in AA. During a meeting he discusses his father Jack Torrance, who he barely remembers. He says he's fighting the same battle as his dad, but has chosen to win. He continues working at the hospice, and is still communicating with Abra via the chalkboard wall.

Meanwhile, the True Knotters are whining to Rose that they haven't fed properly in a while. She says it's because most modern kids don't seem to have powerful Steam anymore (hey, wasn't that the plot of Monsters, Inc.?). She meditates and detects a young Little League player named Bradley Trevor (played by Jacob Tremblay) with a powerful source of Steam.

The True Knotters lure Bradley into their windowless white pedophile van and take him to a secluded vacant lot. There they torture and feed on him, before killing him and burying his body in a shallow grave.

Abra senses Bradley's death and begins shrieking. She "writes" REDRUM (REMEMBER THIS?) on Dan's wall so forcefully that she cracks the plaster. Dan wakes and sees "MURDER" reflected in a mirror. He writes "WHO?" on the board, and Abra answers "BASEBALL BOY."

Abra then has visions of Rose and the True Knot, and sees their location. Rose senses her and begins probing Abra's mind. Abra gives her a mighty psychic shove, knocking Rose on her ass in the real world. Rose tells Crow Daddy about Abra, saying she's powerful enough to destroy them and has to be eliminated.

Abra then sneaks away from home and finally meets Dan in person. He admits he didn't think she was real, and was another Tony, the imaginary friend he had as a kid. She tells him about the True Knot, and he warns her not to use her Shine, as it could attract their attention.

Later Dick Hallorann appears again, and infodumps a ton of expository dialogue about the True Knot to Dan. Dick tells him to protect Abra at all costs, and says this'll be the last time he ever sees him. He doesn't bother to explain why though.

Crow Daddy informs Rose that Grampa Flick is sick and will "cycle" soon. The others gather around him and watch as he convulses and turns to dust before their eyes. They all inhale his weak, ancient Steam. Yuck! Rose attempts to get into Abra's mind again, but is once again forcibly thrown out. This time though she learns Abra's location. Rose tells Crow Daddy where to find Abra, and he drives off.

Abra tells Dan she wants to give Bradley a proper burial, and shows him where to find his body. Dan approaches Billy and explains everything to him. Amazingly, Billy believes every word and offers his help. That was easy! The two drive to the vacant lot, where they dig up Bradley's body. They also recover his baseball glove.

Dan & Billy drive to Abra's house. Her father Dave thinks Dan is some kind of pervert, and is ready to deliver a beatdown. Dan calms him with his Shine, and convinces him he's on the level. Abra touches the baseball glove and uses her powers to locate the True Knot.

Dan & Billy sneak into the True Knot's camp, where they're all holed up in a trailer. Abra uses her powers to project an image of herself into the woods, luring the Knotters out of the trailer. Dan & Billy use shotguns to pick 'em off one by one. As each one dies, they turn to dust and blow away. Rose feels each of them die, screaming in anger & agony. Billy shoots Andi and mortally wounds her. As she dies she uses her power to make him shoot himself in the head.

Elsewhere, Crow Daddy arrives at Abra's home. He kills her father Dave and abducts her. Dan makes psychic contact with Abra, and the two of them are able to briefly possess Crow Daddy and make him crash the van into a tree. As he's not wearing a seat belt, he's thrown through the windshield and dies, turning to dust. Rose is now the only Knotter left.

Dan picks up Abra, who doesn't seem too upset about the death of her Dad, and the two drive all the way to the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. They arrive to find it condemned and in disrepair. Dan tells Abra to stay outside while he goes in and wakes up the ghosts.

The first thing he does is make a quick stop in the basement, where he overloads the hotel's two boilers. Hey, that's from the original novel! He then wanders through the empty hotel, past lots of fan-servicey locations. He enters the Colorado Lounge, where Lloyd The Bartender— who now looks like Jack Torrance— tempts him with a drink. Dan refuses, so Jack drops the pretense and downs the drink himself.

Rose arrives, and Dan and Abra lure her into the snow-covered hedge maze, which is somehow still intact after almost four decades. Abra uses her powers to create illusions and taunt Rose as she attacks her. Rose escapes and enters the hotel. She faces Dan, who's found a sword from somewhere, and threatens her with it
— much like his Mom did to his Dad back in The Shining.

Rose overpowers Dan and begins draining his Shine/Steam. She sees the boxes in his mind, and for no good reason thinks they contain even more power. Suddenly Dan opens the boxes, and the various ghosts— the Grady Twins, the Injured Man, the Bathtub Lady and more— surround Rose and consume her, destroying her forever. Well that was... anticlimactic!

The ghosts then turn their attention to Dan and possess him. He starts hunting Abra and eventually corners her. He manages to regain control for a second, informing her of the boilers and telling her to run. Abra dashes out of the hotel just as it goes up in flames. She watches it burn, knowing Dan took the spirits with him as he died.

Some time later, Abra's safe and sound at home. She talks with Dan's ghost, who appears now and then to give her advice. She tells her unnerved mother that her father's OK. Her mother says dinner's ready, and Abra tells her she'll be there in a minute. She sees the Bathtub Lady waiting for her, and closes the door, ready to put her in a box.


• As a general rule, sequels should match the tone of the original film, and feel like they take place in the same world. Unfortunately Doctor Sleep doesn't feel anything like its predecessor. 

Even though The Shining was a supernatural tale of ghosts and psychic powers, it somehow felt... grounded. It told an unrealistic story in a highly realistic manner. Danny Torrance is a young boy with psychic powers that wake the spirits in a haunted hotel. One could almost believe it could happen.

Compare that with Doctor Sleep. In place of passive ghosts, we suddenly get immortal psychic vampires that drain the life force from children and feed on it! Tonally it makes a 180ยบ turn, and the effect is more than a little jarring.

• Doctor Sleep contains several flashbacks to the 1980s, featuring characters from the original film such as Young Danny Torrance, his mother Wendy, his father Jack and Dick Hallorann, 

Rather than de-age the original actors or create CGI versions of them, the filmmakers chose to simply recast the roles. I'm actually on board with this, as I feel using flash & blood performers is much less distracting than digital ones. And they did a decent job too, choosing actors who remind us of the originals, instead of trying to duplicate them exactly.

On the other hand, The Shining featured some distinctive and idiosyncratic actors, such as Shelley Duvall, Scatman Crothers and of course, Jack Nicholson. How the hell do you find a replacement for someone as iconic as him?

I feel like this is a case of "Damned If You Do, Damned If You Don't." If the filmmakers went the CGI route, fans would howl at how fake it looked. But recasting is no better, as others will say the replacements look nothing like the original. It's quite literally a no-win situation.

• The movie's Big Bad is named Rose The Hat. You'd never know that from watching the film though, as I don't think her name is ever uttered at any point during the runtime.

Sadly, Rose is one of the movie's major shortcomings. She's supposed to be a terrifying, supernatural force that can't be stopped, but she comes off more like a typical suburban Karen who wants to speak with the manager.

• Whenever Rose would lure a kid into her clutches, I half expected her to say, "You'll float too!"

• Supposedly the reason Dan becomes a raging alcoholic like his father is that booze suppresses his psychic powers. I did not get that impression from the movie AT ALL. In fact I didn't know that was the reason for his drinking until I read it after the fact online. Hey, Mike Flanagan, if your main character has a major personality trait like that, you might want to relay that fact to the audience.

• Dan moves into an attic apartment, complete with a wall that's one giant chalkboard. I laughed out loud at how the movie bent over backwards to explain this incredibly interesting wall. Apparently the room was previously occupied by a mathematician who used the chalkboard to write out his formulas.

Jesus Christ, this wall has more of a backstory than the actual characters do! And the thing is, there was no need to explain it! No one (even me!) would have given it a single thought. I'd have probably just assumed the room belonged to a kid who liked to draw on the wall.

It's too bad Flanagan didn't put as much time and effort into the actual script as he did explaining this ferkakta wall!

• Dan works in a hospice, where the facility's live-in cat can sense death and lies on the beds of patients who are about to die.

This is actually based on a real life incident! Back in 2010, Providence R.I. Doctor David Dosa worked at a nursing home with a similar live-in cat named Oscar. According to Dosa, Oscar acted aloof toward most of the patients, but would hop up on the bed of those about to die and snuggle with them in their final hours. Apparently Oscar could sense when the Grim Reaper was about to call.

I wonder if right now Oscar's snuggling next to a copy of the Doctor Sleep script?

• Back in The Shining, Danny had an imaginary friend named Tony. Occasionally Danny would speak as Tony, using a high-pitched squeaky voice and using his finger as a crude mouth.

In the book, we find out that Tony is actually Danny from the future, casting his mind back in time to warn his younger self of impending danger. No, really!

Given that knowledge, I'm a bit disappointed that Ewan McGregor doesn't sound like Tony! He's the future version, right? So logically he should have a high squeaky voice like he did in the first film!

• When Abra's five years old, we see her use the Shine to levitate spoons onto the ceiling of her house. Obviously she has telekinetic powers, something that Danny doesn't. So why doesn't she use that power when she's older? Seems like it would have come in handy when she's battling the True Knotters.

• At one point the True Knotters abduct a young boy named Bradley Trevor, who's Shine is incredibly strong. Bradley's played by young actor Jacob Tremblay, who's rapidly becoming king of the awful B-Movies!

In 2015 Tremblay co-starred in Room (not THE Room), in which he was nominated for several prestigious acting awards. Unfortunately things zoomed rapidly downhill for him right after that. 

In 2017 he starred in The Book Of Henry, widely regarded as the worst film of that year. He followed that up with the mediocre Wonder. Then in 2018 he starred in the franchise killer The Predator, in which the titular aliens wanted to capture him for his super autism powers. Yeah, that happened.

And now he's in this dud. Somebody get this kid a new agent stat, before he grows up and becomes the next Cuba Gooding, Jr.!

• Abra senses Bradley's death, and sees a vision of the True Knotters burying him in a shallow grave. She decides he deserves a decent burial, so she tells Dan where to find him. He and Billy drive to the location, start digging and find the body.

I'm assuming while we weren't looking that Dan told the police where to find Bradley's body. I'm also hoping he did so anonymously, else he's gonna be facing a lot of questions he can't answer!

• Whenever one of the True Knotters is injured, they wither and decay as if their advanced age suddenly catches up to them. This makes a certain amount of sense, as most of them are centuries old. 

But then the same thing happens to Andi when she's killed. Wha...? But she's only eighteen or so, and has only been a member of the cult for a few days. Why would she turn into a dried up mummy like the others?

• As you might expect from a sequel, Doctor Sleep features a crap ton of references and eye-rolling fan service from The Shining.

Remember Danny riding his Big Wheel through the corridors of the Overlook? Do you?

Remember the Grady Twins? Remember "Come play with us Danny, for ever and ever?" Do you remember it?

Remember Room 237? Oooooh, spooky doors are spooooky!

Remember the Bath Tub Lady in Room 237? Do you remember her? Do you?

What about the blood in the elevator? Remember that?



Seriously, what's the point of all these references? What am I supposed to get out of them? What am I supposed to feel when I see them? A warm sense of nostalgia? Am I supposed to point at the screen in glee? Do they expect me to clap when I recognize something? I honestly don't get it.

Maybe the filmmakers are hoping that references from a much better movie will class up this one.

in the end all this fan service did was make me wish I was watching The Shining again instead.

• At the Overlook, Dan wanders the deserted and dilapidated corridors. At one point he peers through the infamous hole in the bathroom door— the same one his father looked through decades ago when he uttered his famous catchphrase, "Heeeere's Johnny!"

And just to make sure we get it, after he looks through the hole there's a brief shot of Jack breaking through the door with an axe and menacing Fake Wendy. Thanks, movie! I'd never have understood the reference without your thoughtful help!

• In a similar vein, when Dan attacks Rose with the axe, the camera apes the same panning move seen in The Shining, when Jack breaks down the bathroom door. It's actually a nice little touch.

• Late in the third act, Abra lures Rose into the hedge maze, where the two of them battle it out. Oddly enough, the maze looks exactly as it did in 1980!

Wait, what? Who the f*ck has been meticulously maintaining this enormous hedge maze for the past FOUR DECADES? The freakin' thing should be overgrown into one giant mass by now!

Doctor Sleep is an unnecessary, unasked for and unwanted sequel to one of the greatest horror films of all time. Sadly, it can't begin to hold a candle to the original, as it's bland, mediocre and uninspired by comparison. Even worse, it's not the least bit scary. I think I'd have actually liked it better if it'd been it's own thing, and not tied to The Shining in any way. I give it a disappointing C.

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