Doctor Sleep doesn't have quite the same shine
By Chase Hutchinson
This was a movie. And honestly, it probably is as good as any movie could be when existing in the shadow of one of the most iconic American horror films of all time. So while I will try to avoid comparisons to said film that this is a sequel to, it will be nearly impossible to avoid. Because, as one would expect, there is nothing that comes close to the level of mastery on display in The Shining. There isn't a reason that it couldn't have potentially created an end product that would have been as good or even better, it just would have been incredibly difficult. So while this sequel isn't the most egregious of sequels to old iconic films, it really isn't sure what it wants to be. It feels like it is pulling in two separate directions and doesn't quite know what it wants to be. For most of it, it feels like a loosely connected film that is mostly focused on a new story and an expanding mythology. This makes it so the final act of the film that involves a walk down memory lane and a drink with an old friend feel incredibly disconnected from the rest of the story. I wish that the choice had been make to pick one of these directions because the end result of this is one where neither quite works.
To get into the story, Danny Torrance (McGregor) has now grown up and is attempting to move beyond his troubled past. He finds himself having to protect a young girl who has similar powers to his own from a roaming cult that consumes young children who are among these gifted few. Leading this cult is Rose the Hat (get this: her defining character trait is that she wears a hat) who will stop at nothing to find these kids as they are key to ensuring that they can almost live forever. The biggest problem exists in that this story does not contain well developed characters. Danny has some moments of character growth, but the film is too busy to give him much of what could be called a character arc. The standout moments are when he is having conversations with those that are dying as he now works as an orderly who can sense when people are dying. This is where he gets the name that is the title of the movie. The rest of the narrative is somewhat all over the place despite having moments that caught my attention only to abandon this for a much more conventional storyline with a regrettable unwillingness to try anything new or push the envelope.
This is a movie that is struggling to find out what it wants to be at its greatest aspirations
The genre that is listed for this movie is horror. I don't tend to be a genre snob, but at the very least this movie feels like a horror hybrid. You could take your choice with it being an action horror or something more akin to a thriller because it doesn't have the same level of horror that I would say makes up a horror film. There certainly were horrific moments, but they happen more rarely than the other sequences that involved the protagonists battling the cult. These scenes are often times centered around their powers and that left me feeling less scared as the "horror" is kept in the background. There was no dread, no tension, or no mystery about what was happening. Instead, it is rather clear from the jump that the cult is a threat and the story will just be about Torrance teaming up with a new young kid who is trying to survive this impending threat. It just takes so long to get there and the solution ends up being much more about the movie prior than the one we're in. Without spoiling anything (even if the trailer shows this) the way that they survive does end up involving the Overlook Hotel. The extent of that involvement both felt to be too much and too little. Too much in that for the majority of the film (save for obvious callbacks) this felt like it wanted to be its own thing. Too little in that it felt so disconnected, I wonder why it even needed to be connected in the first place if it wasn't going to be flushed out more.
The way this movie constructed itself felt like it desperately wanted to be an homage to its predecessor but still operated in a world of its own with a language of its own. Where The Shining was contained and patient, this movie kept jumping all around as it struggled to balance its competing goals. This movie would cut around too quickly and would jump around in time. It wouldn't let scenes play out and would instead speed things up. I think this is because the movie is trying to cover all the ground it wants to cover despite next to nothing significant happening character wise. It is a long movie at 2 hours and 31 minutes which it did not have to be. There was a lot of excess. It felt like it could have streamlined the storyline immensely to narrow the scope to be about either the first part of the movie about Danny attempting to start a new life (which he does very quickly) or the second part of the movie where things kick into gear of the main plot. But the movie felt too much like a modern blockbuster with Rose the Hat being someone that felt too cartoonish and more akin to a villain from a different movie than a nuanced horror story about overcoming trauma. The fact that this trauma and loss is just completely brushed over is a problem. There are moments where people die but it has no weight in the narrative which is unfortunate.
The performances make the best of what is there but there isn't much there
First time actor Kyliegh Curran does a good job as the new character and McGregor is also solid. However, so little is learned about either character especially Curran's making it incredibly difficult to build the three dimensional characters that the performances deserve. This is a consistent problem in that almost nothing is learned about any of the characters or what informs their motivations beyond just the most basic of stock traits. There are brief hints at what the characters want and are feeling, it just never gets there. The fact that there are several character deaths that should be impactful but just pass by is the most egregious example of this. Characters not only rarely grapple with the losses, it feels like they didn't happen until a passing line is said to remind the audience that they even happened. It just is difficult to determine what the characters even want. The cult just wants to keep hunting down their targets, but the rest of the characters feel incredibly shallow when the bar was already not that high. It felt much more invested in the plot rather than the characters that inhabit it. A plot is nothing without characters that are well written and clearly defined.
The characters in this, despite having a rich history to draw upon, barely scraped the surface. The conclusion is one that makes sense as many things come full circle but there was so much left underdeveloped that this shift towards a more sentimental finale feels unearned. I wish that there could have been more moments where the film looked to explore the history and depth of the characters that instead the audience is only given glimpses of. For some, those glimpses may be enough especially since these characters are ones that are in a world that is such an iconic one. It just falls too far short to be able to recommend seeing it. Maybe not in theaters at the least. There are many things out right now that I would recommend seeing much more (namely Parasite) as that and others create a world full of interesting, well written characters. Doctor Sleep does not do that. It struggles to get out of his own way as it attempts to deal with the enormous task of creating a sequel decades later to one of the most beloved horror movies of all time. So while there are some interesting decisions and new ideas introduced, it isn't enough to get the film up to that momentous task.