Ewan McGregor stars as Dan Torrance, a.k.a Doctor Sleep, which is also the title of the film that is up for review. “Doctor Sleep” is Dan’s nickname, given to him by patients at a hospice ward on account of the way he uses his psychic abilities to help dying patients “crossover” with peace and dignity. As much as he is loved at this ward, his talents are needed elsewhere. Dan Torrance will go on one hell of a psychic adventure.
In order to better understand what this is all about, a trip down memory lane is in order.
(Here be me pretending you don’t realize this a sequel to The Shining. Just go with it. Be all wowed and shit!)
The Book – The Shining
Once upon a time there was a man named Stephen King. In 1977, He went ahead and wrote a book that was called The Shining. This is my favorite book from this horror author icon and it helped to develop my love for haunted house stories. One of the main characters of the story is a little boy named Danny Torrance who possesses a sixth sense that is called “The Shining”. People who “shine” have the talent to read minds, see the future, talk with ghosts, and/or engage in many other psychic abilities, many of which plague the “shiner” with horrifying visions. Danny’s mean ol’ father, Jack, brought little “Shining Danny” to The Overlook, a hotel in the mountains that also has “The Shining” (places can shine too). This hotel just loves to conjure ghosts from its past and replay the most bloody scenes that have ever happened on its premises. The Overlook uses little Danny as a battery in order to bring its own Shining abilities to full charge. A fully charged Overlook hotel drives Jack mad and turns him into a homicidal maniac. Jack tries to kill his family, even his dear little boy Danny. In the end, Danny and his mother escape and The Overlook is blown to pieces. Jack perishes in the explosion.
The Book – Doctor Sleep
Again upon a time, this man named Stephen King wrote a sequel to his groundbreaking novel The Shining. The time was 2013. The novel is called Doctor Sleep. Danny Torrance is all grown up. He works as an orderly at a hospice center where he uses his “shining” abilities to help dying patients pass over peacefully to the other side. He meets a little girl named Abra who reaches out to him telepathically. She too has “The Shining” and she is in danger. Abra is being pursued by a deadly gang of psychic vampires known as The True Knot. These folks have been living an unnaturally long life by killing children who “shine” and feeding off of their essence, which leaves their victims’ bodies in the form of steam. By inhaling this steam, they can cheat death.. The True Knot. seeks to have the feast of a lifetime on Abra, for she is the “shiniest” of all and her essence will sustain these vampires for who knows how long. Dan Torrance comes to her aid, and there is a showdown on the grounds where the Overlook once stood. Dan and Abra vs Rose the Hat, the leader of the True Knot,. Even though the building is gone, its “shine” of remains. Will the residual vitality of the spirit of The Overlook somehow lend its strength to Dan and Abra? Or will it work to their disadvantage?
Wait a minute!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The Overlook is no more, and yet I am including Doctor Sleep in my reviews of haunted house films. Oh why would I go and do such a thing? Because, silly, that brief synopsis outlined in the preceding paragraph describes the book, but I am reviewing the movie. Things are different with each medium. Think of it this way – The book Doctor Sleep is the sequel to the book The Shining. On the flip-side, The movie Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the film (not the book.) The Shining. To keep with the continuity of mood, the film is shot in the style of Stanley Kubrick, the late famed director that directed the film The Shining and gave it is signature eerie style. So you could say that the film Doctor Sleep, directed by Michael Flanagan, is very . “Kubric-esque”, and this style is very much welcomed in my opinion. In Kubrick’s film, The Overlook remains standing at the end of the film, unlike in King’s book.. Does this mean that this creepy mansion up there in the snowy mountains of Colorado will once again open its doors to movie viewers?
(Hypothetical Reader: Oh please let it be so! Please? Pretty please? Please tell me I will get to visit The Overlook again! Please? Oh why won’t you just say “yes?”)
(Me: Okay! YES!)
(Hypothetical Reader: Yay!!!!!!!!!! Clap! Clap! Clap! Clap!)
I am very happy to report that the film Doctor Sleep not only includes a fully intact and supernaturally functional Overlook Hotel but that its inclusion comes naturally and serves as a climactic plot device. The title of the article probably already gave this away, but I’m glad you are still giddy with relief. The film begins at The Overlook and comes full circle to finish at the hotel. And I like the film all the more for its inclusion. For this I am so grateful.
Now don’t get me wrong. I do like the way King ended The Shining with the hotel going “Kaplooie!!!!!” due to Jack Torrance’s negligence at keeping checks on the boiler. This ending was foreshadowed in the beginning of the book when Jack is trained on the boiler upkeep and is told to watch out, for “it creeps”, meaning that pressure builds and therefore the settings must be adjusted daily. Likewise, Jack himself fails to keep checks on his own boiler, meaning his temper and sanity. He too “blows” at the end. Brilliant symbolism!
Here’s how I breakdown my preferences. I do like the book The Shining better than the film, but the film is great and it comes in at a close second. I love the film. However, I do like the film Doctor Sleep better than the book. Flanagan’s vision triumphs over King’s, even though it is King’s story. Sorry Stephen, that’s just the way the Overlook crumbles. And it’s not just the presence of The Overlook that makes the film superior to the book. Other factors contribute to its superiority as well. Let’s take a look at some of those factors in the next section.
Doctor Sleep – Book Versus Movie
For the record, I did read Doctor Sleep. Unfortunately, I don’t remember the finer details of the story. In preparation for this article, I made an attempt to refresh my memory by searching my Kindle library, hoping to find the book and do some on-the-spot skim reading. Alas, it was not in my Kindle library. I must have downloaded it from Barnes and Noble on my Nook, which I don’t have anymore. And there was no way I was going to purchase it again. I did like the book, but I didn’t love it, certainly not enough to buy it again.
One of the problems I had with the book has to do with the way King portrays the True Knot. They are senior citizens travelling around in Winnebegos, wearing polyester clothing and straw sun hats. When they extract the psychic steam from their victims, which is used to prolong their already lengthy lives (like vampires, their true ages are much greater than what their appearances suggest), what they don’t absorb there on the spot they store in canisters. Old people with canisters of vapor – to me this seems like a play on oxygen tanks, a device that many of our elderly are forced to possess. No, I’m not taking offense to any unintentional mockery of the plight of the elderly, I just think the whole set up is hokey. They just don’t strike me as a fearsome bunch, even though they do the unmentionable, i.e. killing and feeding off children.
In the movie, most of the True Knot have younger bodies. They appear to be in their thirties, forties and fifties. This would make sense, wouldn’t it? If they enjoy their prolonged lives so much, wouldn’t it make sense to do so in younger bodies? I seem to remember, in King’s defense, that yes, they would love to have less aged bodies, but they were running low on “steam” and disease and aging are catching up to them, much to their dismay. But their style of dress, i.e. polyester, and the way they present themselves, like escapees from a retirement home, all this just made me chuckle. In the movie, they dress in leather, have tattoos, wear hippie-like clothing. They come off as more of a threat. Yeah, yeah, the whole “retirement community dress-style and culture” serve the book characters well by making them the least suspect in regards to reports of missing children, but this setup didn’t serve me well as a reader ready to be horrified by a band of ruthless monsters. The elderly Satan worshipers of Rosemary’s Baby they are not. That clan of seniors worked for me. These did not.
The True Knot of the film; they held my respect as fearsome folks. They did a good job of making me hate them for their selfish and murderous acts. They are bad, bad people – and when the “good guys” get the upper hand, finally, there is relief. I nearly applauded during a scene when Dan Torrance and his friend are able to kill some of them – and I was in the theater without a companion!
The canisters of steam are included in the film. But for some reason, they seem less hokey. I don’t know why I have such “a steam” issue; maybe I should practice more self love. (get it? “a steam” vs. “esteem”? You don’t get it. Fine! Moving on). I just can’t help but question “do we all release steam on death or only people who “shine?” If only people who shine release such steam, then is it this “steam” that gives them their psychic abilities? To me it’s sort of like the midi-clorians of Star Wars, Lucas’s poorly received concept of micro organisms that grant the powers of The Force to its host. But anyway, scenes where the gang of “True Knotters” hover over a dying victim and inhale the steam bring to mind a pack of dogs fighting over a corpse’s bones. These scenes epitomize quintessential horror quite well, so I won’t belabor the point any longer.
While I don’t remember all the details of the book’s final showdown, I do remember that it was a bit drawn out. While it was not quite as bad as the grueling car chase in King’s Dreamcatcher, it still was a “page turner” in a different kind of sense – I kept turning the pages hoping for it to end.
This was not so with the movie. Not at all! Enter The Overlook!
The Showdown. Look, it’s The Overlook!
Dan Torrance and Abra lure that last remaining member of The True Knot, Rose the Hat, to The Overlook. It still stands but it is shut down permanently. Dan Torrance knows how dangerous this place is for people who shine. He doesn’t want to return but he must, in the hopes that the Hotel will put an end to Rose’s reign of terror even if he has to die in the process.
Though I went to the theater alone, I clapped when I watched Michael Flanagan recreations of the wide angle tracking shots of The Overlook’s neighboring lake and mountains. It was late afternoon on a weekday, and I was one of five people in the theater. But I didn’t care, I was excited. The same eerie music made me feel right at home as well. I was a happy man and I knew I was in for a treat.
When he’s finally standing outside the deadly hotel, Dan knows that he needs to “wake the place up”. He does so with his very presence. He enters the foreboding building and he slowly strolls the halls and relives some of the less finer moments of his childhood. The axe holes in the walls are still there, holes carved out by his mad father once upon a time.
During one of his hall strolling scenes, darkened ceiling lamps crackle to life when Dan passes under them. The feeling I got watching this was that I was back inside Flanagan’s’ vision of Hill House from his Netflix series The Haunting of Hill House. Creepy, luring and patient. I loved that series and I was giddy with anticipation watching a similar vision come to light inside The Overlook. There are plenty of Easter eggs – references and recreations of The Shining’s ghosts and deadly scenes. Here in this deadly arena “a Shining” battle will take place as heroes and villains turn their powers against each other.
Bringing it All Home – finishing the film in the style of King’s “The Shining”
Doctor Sleep the film ends in a similar way as The Shining the book. The first thing Dan Torrance does upon revisiting The Overlook is to re-calibrate the boilers so that they will blow the whole place to smithereens. A place like The Overlook is simply too dangerous to be left standing.
Like his father before him, Dan will suffer a similar fate. The hotel possesses him. He runs around with an axe and tries to kill Abra, the girl he sets out to save. Just as he’s about to slam the axe inside her head, he temporarily comes to his senses. A similar situation happens in the book The Shining but not the movie. In the book, Dan breaks free from his trance for just a few moments, enough time to warn his son Danny to run. And run Danny does. Likewise in the film Doctor Sleep with the grown up Danny and young Abra. At the end of Doctor Sleep the film, the hotel will go up in flames, just as it does in The Shining novel. I thought the film’s ending was a fitting tribute to King’s resolution.
By the time you read this piece, movie theaters will probably no longer be showing Doctor Sleep. When I saw it, there were only a few theaters left in the Chicago area showing this film. After seeing it, I began writing this review, then all of a sudden Thanksgiving weekend through me off course. But here it is, finally, and you might have to wait to stream or rent it. Oh but see it you must, by whatever means. Don’t Overlook Doctor Sleep!