Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Doctor Sleep (2019) - Movie Review

Of all the movies to come out in 2019, including several I haven’t even gotten to yet, this is the one I was most looking forward to. Not because it’s the sequel to one of the most classic horror films of all time, although I am thankful that I rewatched it in preparation for this as I have a much better appreciation for it now than I did before. No, it’s because this is the latest feature from writer/director/editor Mike Flanagan, a filmmaker I have been shouting praise for for as long as this blog has existed.

And today’s feature is the final test, a film designed not only to follow up one of the touchstones of horror cinema, but reconcile it with how the original writer famously wasn’t impressed with the adaptation. It’s a tall order, even for the current reigning king of revisionist horror, but holy hell, Flanagan somehow managed to pull it off.

As another Stephen King story, it shows Flanagan and co. on much steadier ground than with Gerald’s Game, as impressive as that film was. Whatever teething problems existed with bringing King’s work to life feel like afterthoughts here, as Flanagan dives head-first into King’s world-building to create a pretty powerful story.

Furthering the original story’s concept of Shining, and taking it in some very creative directions from soothing the minds of the dying to catching child predators, the main concept of the True Knot, a group of travellers who hunt down and feed on those who Shine, shows a lot of textual and visual flair. The group themselves are presented in a very Kingian fashion, less as absolute evil and more as part of a larger food chain, and the visuals to show the psychic powers at work range from the wondrous (flying across the world to a single person’s head) to the nightmarish (when that certain person has lain a trap for anyone who dares step inside).

It feels like the same almost-superhero take on the Shining idea that showed up in The Dark Tower, only given a far more consistent production to fully blossom. That, and Kyliegh Curran as Abra is just that much more interesting as a character. It’s weird that a teenaged character would feel refreshing for how bloodthirsty she can get at times, relishing in the pain she inflicts on the True Knot trying to claim her, but her performance here (especially for a debut) is top-notch and her scenes opposite Ewan McGregor are quite well done.

Oh, and because I feel a certain compulsion to mention this whenever it pops up, this also has a certain Miss Peregrine’s touch to it in how easily I can read autistic subtext into the whole, given how the children the True Knot hunt down are either killed, assimilated into their ranks, or torturously exploited to feed their desires. Have to admit, that felt mighty familiar.

As for the Kubrick’s Shining side of things, Flanagan and his frequent collaborator Michael Fimognari haven’t exactly shied away from how much the legendary director influences their work and style. And here, it feels especially warranted, not just because it uses the same techniques as the original. Flanagan’s editing utilises a lot of fade transitions between shots, the camera techniques are intentionally mirrored, like how the camera follows the motion of the axe as it’s being swung, and when things return to the Overlook Hotel, McGregor’s blocking resembles Nicholson’s in a lot of areas. Because for Danny, this is all about him struggling against the notion of becoming like his father.

There are many different ways of interpreting Kubrick’s Shining, and I’d be remiss if I tried to pin it down to any one perspective, knowing how wildly they can vary. As such, while trying to explain why I think this is ideal as a follow-up to that movie, know that I’m only working off of my own understanding of the film.

The original film, while ostensibly a ghost story, was just as much about addiction, familial trauma and the recurring nature of history as it was about the supernatural. And just as Jack wrestled with his alcoholism, the grown-up Danny has done much the same, to the point where his indulgence is articulated as him reliving the way he remembered his father. The liquor dampened his Shine, and initially, his response to Abra being noticed by the True Knot is try and hide that Shine. Hide who she truly is. But as he regains his strength, and his trust in his own abilities, he comes face-to-face with his trauma, his past, and ultimately his father, all to try and stop the mistakes of the past from repeating themselves yet again.

I’ll admit that it took me a few viewings to actually vibe with The Shining; for the longest time, I just didn’t get the hype behind it. Maybe this is the result of having followed Flanagan’s career as closely as I have, but no such apprehension exists here: This is brilliant. Aside from being a gripping bit of horror, a solid and potently emotional drama about family and personal power, and the latest example of why people need to stop sleeping on the man’s work, this manages to smooth over one of the longest-running discrepancies between a source material and an adaptation in cinematic history. Even for someone as consistently creative as Flanagan, that is a major achievement, and it being attached to a superb film is just icing on the cake.

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