Sunday, March 15, 2020

Doctor Sleep: Director’s Cut – review

Director: Mike Flanagan

Release date: 2019

Contains spoilers

Whilst Stephen King has been on the record to criticise the Shining (1980) as it deviates from his novel, I happen to love the movie. More so, I am also a fan of the book (though it is many a long year since I read it). When the novel of Doctor Sleep was released I was excited – a sequel to the Shining and one that centres on vampires (the antagonists through the novel are energy vampires – feeding on the Shining, or the psychic energy that gifted people have). Unfortunately, the book and I just didn’t click, I put it to one side, and there it gathers dust.

Roger Dale Floyd as Danny
Then this film came along (the Blu-Ray contains the theatrical cut and the director’s cut – I went straight to the latter). I understood that this pulled off the tricky job of being a film of the original novel but also reached back to Kubrick’s iconic film. It certainly does, as we will see. The film is cut in such a way that it is rather episodic, which works perfectly well, and the Director’s Cut comes in at a whopping three hours.

Violet McGraw as Rose
As the film starts we are in the woods. A young girl, Violet (Violet McGraw), leaves her motor home to pick flowers. She comes across a woman by a lake, who calls herself Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), and speaks to her about magic – performing a trick of producing a flower and suggests to Violet that she has a little magic of her own. A man, later revealed as Crow Daddy (Zahn McClarnon, Midnight Texas), appears behind them but Rose says he is her friend. Eventually there is a whole group of people stood, watching. Rose has Violet’s arm and is hurting her and the group descends on the child. We see vehicles driving away as Violet’s mother (Bethany Anne Lind) looks for her little girl.

the bathtub ghost
We return to the Overlook Hotel and see young Danny (played young by Roger Dale Floyd and played old by Ewan McGregor, Tales from the Crypt: Cold War) on his trike. He stops outside room 237 and sees the handle turn and the door open. He bolts awake and goes to the bathroom, but the (iconic) bathtub ghost from the Overlook is there, transplanted into the Florida apartment's bath. The ghost stands and Danny backs away, closing the door. The ghost seems to approach the door and he wets himself, at which point his mom, Wendy (Alex Essoe), comes to him. She looks and sees wet footprints by the bath. Danny has not spoken since the Overlook.

sat with Hallorann
Danny is sitting outside and Dick Hallorann (Carl Lumbly) is with him. Now one of the clear differences between the 1980 film and the novel of the Shining was Hallorann dying in the film and surviving in the book. How is this circle squared? Simple, it is irrelevant. Hallorhan vanishes at the end of the dialogue and so whether he is speaking to Danny psychically, a ghost visiting, perhaps even just a memory (as he says later), or a psychic Jiminy Cricket, a projection of Danny's own conscience – doesn’t matter, they all work. Hallorann explains that the Overlook has been left to rot and the ghosts are starving. They eat that which shines and so they are searching Danny out. The Overlook itself ate the shining too, and left behind the dark in its victims. Therefore the ghosts are created by the hotel as a result of it feeding. What this means in real terms is that this film confirms the Overlook to be a vampiric building and the ghosts are vampiric ghosts – meaning I will return to the first film at a later date as part of the genre. Hallorann teaches Danny how to lock the ghosts in boxes within his mind and Danny captures, first of all, the bathtub ghost. The death of violet took place in this time frame as we see a missing poster with her on it.

attending 12 steps
The film cuts forward to 2011 and Dan is now a grown man at rock bottom. A drunk and, apparently, a drifter. We see his drunken bar fight, the woman in bed and the vomit (she has died it transpires), how he steals her money – rationalising she stole his first – and, despite Hallorann appearing and admonishing him, he takes the money and leaves her in the bed with her toddler in the flat. Later, as he gets to a new location, he sees her ghost and that of the child. They have not been found, the child has starved to death – it’s implied – and this is the rock bottom that turns Dan to seek sobriety.

turning Andi
Meanwhile Rose and Crow observe a girl, Andi (Emily Alyn Lind), in a cinema where she is met by a sexual predator she met online. She has powers (Rose calls her a pusher) and makes the man sleep, steals from him and cuts his face with two nicks that will, whenever he sees the scars, cause him to admit his predilection. She has done this several times. Crow approaches her outside and she influences him but has no power over Rose. Andi wakes in Rose’s trailer and Rose explains that they are the True Knot, a family, and offers to bring her into the family. This involves a turning ritual, where Rose feeds her the last of Violet (they call the shining, steam and capture the essence in flasks to keep as well as feeding from the victim directly). When feeding their eyes shine and the transformation is painful. When Andi comes round a few days later she says she felt like she was dying and Rose suggests she was – so these are undead.

Flick dying
There is no need to continue through the plot. Suffice it to say that the film jumps forward 8 years, with Dan having turned his life around but a girl with strong shining, Abra (played young by Dakota Hickman and teen by Kyliegh Curran), comes to the attention of the True Knot and Dan has to help her, protect her and the story eventually returns to the Overlook. As for the Knot themselves, what is interesting is how long they live and how they can die. One of them, Grampa Flick (Carel Struycken, Revamped), is described as having seen empires rise and fall. However, their moto is eat well, live long and they have not been eating well (there is a brief moment where environmental issues are blamed for the drop off in psychic children) and Flick dies – it seems like his energy is decaying, his physical flesh appearing more and more corpse-like and then his body turns to steam, leaving his clothes only, and the others consume that steam. Sufficient physical trauma can cause them to die also – again turning to steam. Interestingly, as a typical person dies, we see steam escape their mouth – a part of their last breath.

reaching out to Dan
The film is lovely to look at and the matching to the Kubrick film is superbly done. I have to particularly mention Alex Essoe as Wendy Torrance who absolutely channelled Shelley Duvall. But all the acting was top notch. McGregor took Dan, and us, on an emotional rollercoaster; the core members of the True Knot were both weirdly attractive and malevolent at once (though the additional family members had little to do and tended just to be stood in the background). Kyliegh Curran was especially good as Abra, with excellent acting chops and able to both be the excitable teen and the perhaps mentally older girl who had lived with being seen as a freak. A brief moment where Dan possesses her took that further and she was able to give us Dan’s voice through that scene.

dying vampire
The film balances out the fantastical/horror aspects with more mundane but still charged stories and the jumps in time work (the film maintains chronological order except when giving us flashback). Truthfully, the Three hours flew by. Doctor Sleep is most definitely a prime example of the Energy Vampire in film but, as well as the corporeal undead, also gives us vampiric ghosts (as well as, technically, some vampiric possession as those ghosts take control of a character) and a vampiric location. There is an underlying metaphor that examines child abuse through the film (be it the actual groomer we meet, the True Knot who feed exclusively on children and deliberately cause them fear and pain to purify the steam or the fear Dan has, when first meeting Abra physically, that people will assume the worst). This is a great film 8.5 out of 10.

The imdb page is here.

On DVD @ Amazon US

On Blu-Ray @ Amazon UK

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