Flickcharted: #3311 (28.49%)
Dir.: Mike Flanagan
I consider myself a Mike Flanagan fan; I like how he understands people and zeroes in on the humanity of horror in his projects. And I think that's what he's going for here, but misses the target in profound ways. One of the great things about his Haunting of Hill House series was how it dealt with grief. That's kind of been a recurring theme in most of his work. However, a lot of the humanity in Doctor Sleep felt false. That's maybe the biggest of many obstacles I think the movie fails to overcome.
There's a lot of trauma in Doctor Sleep, including some nice early scenes in which adult Danny helps ease the transition of dying hospice patients. However, Flanagan uncharacteristically doesn't seem to know what do when it comes to the trauma experienced by key characters. Danny's childhood trauma is packed away early and never satisfyingly dealt with later; death touches other principle characters later in the movie, with little acknowledgment. Weirdly, the dying villains are given more release than is afforded to the non-villains. Something in the balance of Doctor Sleep just seems off.
Part of the problem with Doctor Sleep is the two main performances, by Ewan McGregor and Kyliegh Curran. I don't feel like I dislike McGregor, but I've never really liked a movie that has featured him in a major role. His American accent is wrong, flat, and holds him back, I think. Curran, in her film debut, seems like a remarkably good TV actor for her age. She's too emphatic, in a way that feels false on the bigger canvas of film. As the main villain, Rebecca Ferguson is a real, breathing live-wire compared to her stiff adversaries, but she's handicapped by a problem that is out of Flanagan's hands and goes right to the source material.
While the concept of Doctor Sleep is not without merits, as a sequel to The Shining it just seems.... weird. It expands a previously claustrophobic family nightmare into a sprawling occult adventure, with plucky psychics making interstate battle against a cult of vampires who dress like The Travelling Wilburys and who keep the souls of their victims in what look like Sharper Image travel mugs. The whole "True Knot" story-line feels very much like an unused (and outdated) idea for another novel — something more like True Blood fanfic than classic King — dropped on top of the shadows of an iconic story.
As long as Kubrick's film version of The Shining is kept in the shadows, this isn't so problematic. The low-key echoes of Shelley Duvall and Scatman Crothers early on are kind of nice, but the more Doctor Sleep digs into the original movie, the cracks start to show in unpleasant ways. Flanagan recreates several moments from the original movie with affection and attention to detail, but the sinister edges and hypnotic undercurrent simply aren't there. It begins to feel like kids dressing up in old costumes that don't quite fit, and as much as Doctor Sleep looks like The Shining at times, it never comes close to recreating its essence. It can only be considered very risky to even try to recreate Jack Nicholson's iconic performance without using Nicholson himself; substituting the kid from E.T. in that role is a complete flub, no matter his talent. It might not have been a problem if Flanagan had not tried so hard to evoke the original movie, which simply draws more attention to the staggering gulf in accomplishments. Even granting that Doctor Sleep is sort of interesting at times, with some good moments, and its heart in the right place despite partially unsuccessful casting, it's kind of like following up a gourmet 7-course meal with half of an ordinary grilled cheese sandwich and three fruit Tic-Tacs. The effort involved in calling both of them "dinner" seems foolhardy.
I can't say I really disliked Doctor Sleep, at least not for the first two acts. Jacob Tremblay's scene is potent, and there a few thrills here and there with a sincere attempt at telling a character-based story at its core. But it never feels like The Shining, or a necessary or organic extension of The Shining, despite constant emphatic reminders of those essential failures. We talk a lot about "The Uncanny Valley" when it comes to digital version of actors, but Doctor Sleep finds that same valley between this sequel and its predecessor, and between its performers and their characters. It's not bad, it's just different enough to be wrong.