This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Dan’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
seems weird to call a sequel to one of the most beloved and respected horror movies that's also an adaptation of a work by one of the most beloved and respected horror writers that's *also" a sequel to a work by that self-same writer that in and of itself is beloved and respected "bold" or "daring" but I will.
The amount of masters DOCTOR SLEEP has to serve, both as a sequel to Kubrick's THE SHINING, an adaptation of King's DOCTOR SLEEP which itself serves as a sequel to King's THE SHINING, with those two works working at odds with each other and DOCTOR SLEEP the book acting as a corrective to Kubrick's THE SHINING whereas this movie would have to pull in viewers and fans of the movie along with fans of the book(s), plus people who have little to no clue or care or affection about either, the fact that this movie even exists and works and isn't just a mess is amazing.
That it's as good as it is is, frankly, a miracle.
DOCTOR SLEEP the book is good, and as I said above it's clearly a corrective on what King hated about Kubrick's adaptation of THE SHINING, making Jack Torrance more of a tragic figure and the story as a whole more of a cautionary tale about alcoholism than anything else. It ends pat and never interrogates itself any further. It is, of course, a book about a man reflecting on trauma's past written by the same man who wrote its predecessor. It's the same story told at different points of life. And it works, which is fine.
Where DOCTOR SLEEP the film succeeds is because it's written and directed by someone outside of that trauma reflecting on that trauma, much as a son would actually reflect on his father's alcoholism. The book fails at interrogating that because there's no exteriority to King's story. It's *his* story and he's the one telling it. It may be the same issue King had with Kubrick's adaptation of THE SHINING, so it's amazing that King so readily co-signed this film, especially considering how willing it is to attach itself to Kubrick's feelings on Jack's illness in THE SHINING.
But of course, this movie is more than just a cheap tag onto another work. The early parts of the film, where we see these lives affected by "the shining", are maybe the best parts of the film. Dan Torrance fleeing and hoping to become a better man, these small moments where he can help others move on at death, are truly beautiful and affecting in a way I didn't expect a horror movie to be. Abra and Rose the Hat, our deuteragonist and villain, caught in this cat and mouse game that was as much a dramatization of how older generations feed on the hope of youth, work well together (Rebecca Ferguson deserves a lot of credit for playing a villain with absolutely no redeeming qualities and never feels tragic when they absolutely could have), although they unfortunately get a lot of the exposition scenes that drag down the film.
As the atmosphere on the film builds and builds we get to the third act, one that's controversial yet entirely essential. We go back to the Overlook.
Now, a lot of people have been weirdly angry about Flanagan cheaply revisiting Kubrick's vision, but I got fuckin chills at the night scenes mimicking those opening shots of THE SHINING. It's powerful because it touches on the film's theme, of trauma and how it envelops and overwhelms you and how powerful it is to defang it. Dan Torrance spends most of the film wanting to run away from his past, run away from his guilt and his gift, and demands that Abra does so as well so she can survive. When he turns around and heads feet first into that trauma, it's at once heart-breaking and hopeful. The bar scene, a mirror of THE SHINING with Jack Torrance as Lloyd, can obviously seem hokey at first, what with the fake Jack Nicholson of it all. But really think about what's going on there, what Ewan McGregor is portraying here.
Stephen King has an interesting place in my life. He's one of my dad's favorite authors, and obviously everyone young son wants to be like their dad. But there's a lot of ways I absolutely didn't and don't want to be like him, and I've failed at it. For once, I got to experience what it would be like to really talk to him about what living with and without him would be like. My dad's still alive, unlike Jack Torrance, but I still have the mental scars of watching him fight with my mom in increasingly abusive and erratic ways, of him being abusive towards me, and him older now pretending like that never happened. In that bar scene, I saw a conversation I've always wanted to have and the way I knew it would always play out. so it only makes sense it's in the service of a Stephen King adaptation.
In King's THE SHINING, the Overlook is destroyed, so in King's DOCTOR SLEEP, when Dan returns, it's only a vision of that, that ends up being prettied up and Disnefied at the end, Jack Torrance absolved of the trauma he inflicted on Dan. In Kubrick's, however, it's merely condemned and shuttered. When we return to it here, it's rotted. it's small. it's not the looming figure over Danny Torrance anymore. It's still hungry and still a threat but it's STARVING. I've seen the arguments that the third act feels more like a haunted house at an amusement park, but I'd argue *that's the point*. Here, Mike Flanagan shows us that revisiting trauma *can* be powerful, it *can* heal us if we do it the right way. It may destroy us, but that doesn't make us any less saved.