“You’ll see my mark’s every time you look in the mirror.”
I never got around to seeing Doctor Sleep (2019) in theaters back when movie theaters were still a thing. Mostly I heard mixed reviews about it and based on the trailers, it looked like another Steven King film in the similar vein as the It (2017) remake. Since it took me a second viewing to like the original The Shining, I had very low expectations for Doctor Sleep when I sat down to stream the sequel to Kubrick’s masterpiece (which in subsequent viewings I’ve grown to like incredibly much).
For the first twenty minutes of Doctor Sleep, I was quite unhappy. The film picks up a few months after The Shining leaves off, with actors playing many of their 1980 film counterparts, including the beautiful Alex Essoe from Starry Eyes (2014) as Clea Duvall’s character. Danny, the young boy from The Shining is played as an adult by Ewan McGregor and is now a drunkard which was shown in a series of awkward scenes intercut with flashbacks to the first film. To be honest, every time the film shows any scenes of these actors, who did a good job don’t get me wrong, it was incredibly jarring and brought me out of the film. The many flashbacks and straight-up scene-for-scene remakes, interspersed throughout the film especially throughout much of the ending that take the plot right back to the Outlook Hotel, blood-spilling elevators and all, I really could have done without. Maybe if the two films had been shot in the same manner, i.e. wide zoom lens, and a cold, unfeeling palette, the intermixing wouldn’t have been so distracting, but each time they easter-egged to the first film was like a slap to the face in how different Doctor Sleep is from The Shining.
Despite these scenes, after the first twenty minutes, the film was incredibly enjoyable and actually fairly emotional. It did a fairly good job of incorporating the original movie (excepting the straight-up flashbacks) with its own weirdness. Doctor Sleep is definitely its own thing that touches on all sorts of issues.
What I found most compelling in this weirdness was less the plot and more the characters themselves. They were all given some actual depth and weren’t portrayed as one note. There was humanity in all the characters, good and bad, and the acting was on point. Even more so, the family analysis that focused on Danny, Ewan McGregor’s character, and the relationship with his father paralleled in multiple relationships throughout the film, among the antagonists and protagonists, was handled really well and more than anything else was the film’s beating heart. I also really dug the diversity of the cast, especially the amount of women front and center. Although, the ‘black guy dies’ trope was disappointing to see (twice no less).
As far as plot, Doctor Sleep revolves around a group of ‘vampires’ who are psychics that consume the essence or soul power of younger psychics to prolong their lives far beyond a normal span of years. They do so by inhaling the pain and torment of these other psychics in ‘steam’ that escapes from their victims during their torture and murder. Danny, the young boy from The Shining, all grown up, learns about these vampires through a telepathic connection with another psychic, a young girl who is potentially the most powerful psychic the world has ever seen. The pair form an alliance to stop the vampires and the result is a battle of mental head games that is handled very well and actually acknowledges that yes, psychics would use guns #southpark
Asides from looking like a made-for-tv-movie, the film was engaging and is definitely worth a viewing. It’s not A-class material but its got heart in all the right places. From a monster standpoint, the villains of Doctor Sleep are a tad lacking, with the psychic vampire’s powers not really explored in the film and mostly confined to affecting other psychics. Still, for a sleeper villain, the True Knot, the name of the gang of psychics in the film, offer some low-level intrigue that might make a decent side-plot. Especially the apparently most powerful of the crew – Snakebite Andi.