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Movie Review – Doctor Sleep

I’ve always had issues with Kubrick’s version of ‘The Shining’. It really missed the point of the book – that the poltergeists came alive because of Danny’s powers  and not just because it was totally haunted. It was haunted, but the hotel wanted Danny, to feed off of his abilities,  and the nasty spirits used Jack to get to him. Kubrick’s film disregards this completely. In the book Jack terrorizes his wife and son with a croquet mallet, while he uses an axe in the movie (adding gore and Dick Hallorann’s death to the film).

Plus the ending really irks me. While I find the maze in the film to be a great addition to the story, Jack didn’t die in that way in the book. He actually died because he forgot check on the boiler on a daily basis and when Jack finally remembers to do so, he runs down to the boiler room only to have it blow up in his face. Literally. The hotel burns with him.

All this being said, when I found out that the film version of ‘Doctor Sleep’ would be a direct sequel to Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’, I was less than thrilled (so was Stephen King). Don’t get me wrong. I love the film version of ‘The Shining’ and its place in film history. I also enjoyed ‘Doctor Sleep’ when I read it. How would the film makers make the changes needed without altering the story?

If you haven’t read ‘Doctor Sleep’, it picks up Danny Torrence’s life several decades after the events at the Overlook Hotel. He is an alcoholic, a drug user, and has no money or steady income. His mother, Wendy, has died and he is alone. He wakes in bed after a night of drunkenness in the apartment of a drug addict whom he spent the night with. She stole his money to buy drugs, so he goes to steal what money she has from her purse while she is passed out in bed. Then Danny sees she has a son, a toddler. Dick Hallorann appears as Danny’s conscience (Dick was killed at the Overlook by Jack). Danny leaves with the money anyway. Later, we learn that the mother and her toddler have died and Danny blames himself. He finally seeks redemption, or at least sobriety, in New Hampshire.

Meanwhile, a cult calling themselves the True Knot travel the country feeding off of the souls of people who “shine”. Off of children who shine, because they shine brighter with their innocence. It keeps them eternally young. Their leader, Rose, acted exquisitely by Rebecca Ferguson, seeks out these shining children and cares not for their victims painful deaths.

In his sobriety, Danny is sought out by Abra, a young girl with a powerful shine. They become pen pals of a sort, writing in chalk on the wall of Danny’s home before they actually meet when Abra is a teenager. Abra, sending her shine out into the world, accidentally sees Rose and the True Knot feeding off of a boy in Iowa. Rose senses her abilities and the cult goes in search of her causing Abra to seek out Danny’s help. They all end up at the Overlook Hotel (which is still standing since it never exploded in Kubrick’s film).

The film version ‘Doctor Sleep’ succeeds where Kubrick’s ‘The Shining’ failed – it gets the characters right. It concentrates on them wholeheartedly, and gives Danny’s the redemption he longs for. It’s isn’t so much scary as it is suspenseful, although there are some gruesome deaths along the way. Even the casting of Jack and Wendy Torrence (using Alex Essoe and Henry Thomas in place of Shelley Duvall and Jack Nicholson) is relatively convincing as far as lookalikes go if you haven’t seen ‘The Shining’ in quite a while.

This is a Stephen King adaptation worth seeing. Character development is stellar. Rebecca Ferguson steals the show, but the rest of the cast does the job convincingly as well. Suspenseful, but don’t expect it to keep you awake at night. Getting to view the old Overlook, with its bleeding hallways and evil spirits, will leave you feeling a little nostalgic if you grew up watching ‘The Shining’.

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