R for lots of old naked ladies. Also, it's trying to make you feel uncomfortable. There is so much violence done to little kids. There's toddler death. We actually see an 11-year-or-so-old get ripped apart and bloody, including his rotting corpse. The biggest upsetting moments are these graphic images done to kids. There's a lot of violence and a lot of language going on here. If there's a well deserved R, it's probably for Doctor Sleep.
DIRECTOR: Mike Flanagan
I don't know why I think that I've heard good things about this. Maybe my desire for this movie to be absolutely outstanding planted a review that didn't exist in my head. I know nobody who has actually seen this movie. I do concretely remember reading an interview with director Mike Flanagan about this movie, mainly because he was very "Yay Kubrick" about the whole thing. This interview basically said that he was going to marry Stephen King's version of The Shining and Stanley Kubrick's version of The Shining together and create a sequel to that. This is pretty commonplace trivia, but Stephen King loathed Kubrick's version of the movie. But to most people, the Kubrick version is the only version of The Shining out there. Maybe I put my hopes up too much for it to be exactly what I wanted.
Most of the issues I have with Doctor Sleep is that it never elevates itself above the genre. It's a snobby thing to say, but I've always professed that I'm a snob. The silver lining to this concept is that it isn't ashamed of its source material or its genre. Doctor Sleep rests firmly within the fantasy horror genre. If you are in this for just a horror movie that does some impressive nods to its predecessor, Doctor Sleep probably kind of works. But Kubrick's The Shining is something absolutely glorious. It tells King's story --mostly --without feeling the need to define itself by its own genre. Kubrick's Shining is a horror movie that really doesn't feel like a horror movie. It's contained and, really, it's character driven. Much of the movie doesn't give us a wealth of mythology about what it means to have the Shining and it really doesn't care to. Is Jack seeing ghosts or is he just insane? Who cares? (There are actual ghosts, or else he wouldn't have been able to get out of the freezer.) The Shining is a prime example of a movie hinging its bets on being able to tell character drama and tell it well.
However, like a lot of sequels, especially ones that don't give us too many concrete answers in the first entry, Doctor Sleep feels the need to expand on the mythology. I can't blame King for this. King has been teasing the concept of "Shine" not only in The Shining, but in just a wealth of his novels. He may not call it "Shining", but it's always there. But I really don't care what it is. Like the Predator (I KEEP MAKING THIS COMPARISON), it works so much better in the ambiguous. I found the connection with Ewan McGregor appropriate because he's a character in two movies where the mysterious force is over-explained, ruining the concept to begin with. Danny Torrence and his Shining was perfectly vague in the first movie. It was magical, but we also didn't need a million kids running around with that kind of power. It really does feel a little X-Men-y by the time that the movie ends. It seems like so many people have this ability and that they have to live in secret. The idea of vampires that feed on special people is also very like Stephen King. Again, I like the guy a lot. I've given up trying to be above Stephen King and have given him so many props for being a really talented writer. But the psychic vampires seems a bit too on brand at times. The villains did absolutely nothing for me.
I want to talk about the people that Danny Torrence let die in an alcoholic haze. It's really messed up. Like, it's really messed up. I'm normally good with really messed up, but I don't like something in a movie being messed up for messed-up's sake. Danny lets the woman and her kid die by abandoning them in the house. Like the audience, we think that the woman's alive when he leaves his apartment and that the kid will be just fine. Because of Danny's shine, they become part of the ghosts that haunt him after he moves out. It is very disturbing seeing a dead toddler. I had a similar moment in Boys Don't Cry that was pretty upsetting, but that moment contributed to the larger character development. As a storyteller, I would definitely include that moment in the story. Danny's actions needed to have consequences. To get Danny to rock bottom so he can be a recovering alcoholic, that moment had to happen. It's this great parallel to the demons that Jack Torrence carried with his alcoholism and I get that. But the movie doesn't really explore that moment as a huge crutch. It kind of treats that moment like Star Trek did in its more episodic eras. There are episodes of The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine where Picard and O'Brien, respectively, live entire lifetimes separately that traumatize them. These moments are rarely addressed again. I don't love that we never see those ghosts again. He places the Overlook ghosts in boxes. Those two ghosts deserve to haunt Danny. Danny being a good man in the face of those ghosts makes him a more compelling protagonist. Instead, it seems like he completely recovers and forgives himself for the death of a toddler.
So what is salvagable? Doctor Sleeps rests in the very heavy shadow of The Shining. It's the elephant in the room. This is a sequel, albeit a non-direct sequel, to The Shining. A large portion of the movie is devoid of Overlook references. Danny, after all, is an adult and living in a small town miles and miles from an abandoned Overlook Hotel. But those moments...aren't interesting? I don't find Rose the Hat to be all that interesting, so much of the movie is really me just begging to get the characters back into the Overlook. I knew it was going to happen. The movie starts off with the score to The Shining. It focuses on that bizarre carpet. Flanagan takes great pride in recreating scenes from The Shining with new actors (which I suppose I should discuss at some point in this). Teasing The Shining is only a reminder of all the good stuff we should be seeing. The most impressive thing that Flanagan achieves is the recreation of what Kubrick did the first time. It's kind of Ready Player One, but more likely it is closer to what Gus Van Sant did with Psycho. Psycho was a hot mess, but it was an experimental hot mess that needed to happen. The takeaway is that we see experiments in technicality that are fascinating. When Danny returns to the Overlook, the movie gets way less boring. But the tone never really fixes itself. It still feels like the movie is out for scares rather than anything to really think about.
So, the recasting, you say? Yeah, I said it and I'm still saying it. But that's only because I've been isolated for almost a week and I have to talk to someone. (For all I know, I'm writing, "All work and no play make Jack a dull boy" right now). Alex Essoe does a Shelley Duvall impression. It's a pretty good impression. Carl Lumbly, similarly, does a pretty good Scatman Crothers impression. It sounds really silly coming out of Alex Essoe, but I'll forgive it. Henry Thomas...doesn't do a Jack Nicholson impression? You know, the easy impression of the group. I get that he's melding The Bartender and Jack into one, but Danny calls him "Dad", so keep that in mind. Alex Essoe is a really weird choice for Wendy Torrence. I think we see the philosophy in casting between Kubrick in '80 and Flanagan in '19. Shelley Duvall is not a traditional starlet. She was cast as a character actor tied directly to her skill as an actress. It's weird how pretty they made Alex Essoe. It's like we couldn't handle someone who looked like a real human being to play this mom. There's something so quaint about the idea of re-casting look and sound-alikes for a movie like this. We are so knee deep in motion capture stuff that I simply expect to see a young Jack Nicholson in the movie and a young Shelley Duvall. But that's me. I really like those moments and I spent a lot of time dealing with the feeling of "That's a really good impression" versus "That's the character."
I wanted so much for Doctor Sleep to be a work of art. It's just a movie. It's a very forgettable movie. It's going to be 2010, but at least this one acknowledges the aesthetic choices of the first one. I don't regret watching it, but I just needed it to step outside the box of horror for a second and to say something.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.