Doctor Sleep

Director: Mike Flanagan

Screenwriter: Mike Flanagan

Cast: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyliegh Curran, Cliff Curtis, and Carel Struycken

When I heard that a film adaptation was in the works for Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s sequel to his 1977 novel The Shining, I admit I was worried. When I read the 2013 novel, I remember immediately thinking, “Well, this will never work as a film.” Then, to my surprise, within a few years, it’s announced that it’s already in production, and with the talented horror-guru Mike Flanagan (Haunting of Hill House, Hush) as writer/director. That’s enough to get me in the theater, and fortunately, Doctor Sleep does not disappoint.

As I mentioned, Doctor Sleep is Stephen King’s long awaited follow up to his horror classic, The Shining. The original film version of The Shining from 1980 directed by Stanley Kubrick has taken on a life and mythology of its own being hailed as one of the greatest horror films of all time as well as inspiring countless stories and documentaries about some of the strange occurrences associated with the production. Doctor Sleep picks up 30 years after the events at the Overlook Hotel from the original novel. Danny, now going by Dan (Ewan McGregor), is a fully grown, recovering alcoholic, and still has the shine, a term referring to his psychic abilities. Dan’s pretty messed up as one tends to be after a haunted hotel possesses your dad leading him to chase you and your mom around with an axe and just murder a bunch of people before freezing to death in a hedge maze. Oh…spoiler alert.

Now, Dan is sort of a lost soul leading him to taking a job as a hospice nurse, a job that puts his abilities to good use, as his shine gives him an uncanny ability to help soothe the dying in their final moments – subsequently earning him the nickname Doctor Sleep. The shining is a pretty valuable thing – even more so to a group of steam-punk looking, cultish demons known as the True Knot. Lead by ancient matriarch, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot travels by RV across the country seeking out those with the shine, torturing them, and then devouring their essence, which they call steam. It’s a motley crew of weridos with weird names to say the least (a tip of the cap to Twin Peaks’s Carel Struycken as Grandpa Flick). They survive on steam and it must be extracted through pain and torture, which results in some very unsettling scenes in the film.

When the True Knot sense the presence of a young girl named Abra (Kyliegh Curran) who possesses incredibly strong abilities, Rose and her band of scoundrels look to hunt her down. Abra reaches out to Dan asking for his help to stop the True Knot from capturing and killing more people in their caravan of death!

I enjoyed Doctor Sleep much more than I expected I would. The performances are good, especially by Rebecca Ferguson as Rose. The horror is quite terrifying in parts, and while The Shining is on a different plane in terms of achievement and experience, Doctor Sleep is a well-told, strongly designed sequel. The nods to the first film are appropriate, but this is a fully realized, complete story all on its own. The adaptation from the source material is extremely faithful in most respects, but Flanagan also takes some massive left turns in other places, most notably with when Abra’s powers manifest and with the film’s ending. Stephen King said in an interview that it is important for readers to understand that the novel Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the novel The Shining and not the film. I think Flanagan took to that approach with this film in that the movie Doctor Sleep is a sequel to the movie The Shining and not the book, therefore the choices he made to deviate from the book make sense to the characters as we know them from the movie (even though I would have loved to see the novel’s ending play out in the film).

Doctor Sleep does what it set out to do very well. It invokes the spirit of The Shining without needlessly relying on it to stay above water. The inexplicable 152-minute running time does unsurprisingly result in the occasional drag here and there, especially in the first act. Still, there’s plenty that works and more than enough play in this film to keep Doctor Sleep from being a dull boy. B+

Doctor Sleep is rated R and has a running time of 2 hours and 32 minutes.

Oculus

ImageOk, Oculus, so you want to be a good horror movie? Let’s see. Haunted object? Check. Unexplainable moving objects? Check. Spooky, long haired ghost girl that appears in the background and disappears when someone turns around? Check. Well, everything seems to be in order…oh wait, just one more thing – not a simple retread of The Shining or The Amityville Horror with younger leads and no originality…oooh, I’m so sorry, you’re missing the final qualification for your certification. The best I can do for you is offer you a license to franchise with the high risk of no one caring.

Oculus is a pretty cool name for a movie, I’ll admit. But when you realize the word has an architectural origin to refer a round opening at the top of a domed ceiling, and then you see the movie Oculus, you realize that’s all it is – a cool title. There is very little depth to Oculus. Told in a fractured and parallel timeline, Kaylie (Karen Gilian) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) are siblings who in 2002 watched their parents slowly driven insane by a strange and haunted mirror that led their father (Rory Cochrane) to kill their mother (Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff) forcing Tim to kill his own father in a sort of self defense. Young Tim is sent to a mental facility for treatment until his 21st birthday while Kaylie grows up determined exonerate her brother by capturing and killing the spirit that attacked her family. Flash to 2012 (not 2013 or 2014, to give you an idea of how long this film sat in cinematic purgatory), Tim is released from the psychiatric hospital with the recommendation of his doctor solely on the evidence that when he dreams of his terrible past, at least it is he who pulls the trigger in his dreams. What?!?!

Tim is released to his sister’s care. Their family’s belongings liquidated in an estate sale, Kaylie has managed to secure the deadly mirror from an auction house, and she still retains the title to their childhood home. With the mirror back in her late father’s office, Kaylie reveals to Tim that through an elaborate setup involving multiple cameras, timers, alarms, and other “precautions” she believes she will be able to capture the mirror’s deadly abilities and powers on camera and be able to then use this evidence to prove Tim did not kill his father but that a spirit afflicted their family and left him no choice.

Oculus is not a deep movie, nor is it a confusing movie, but director Mike Flanagan goes out of his way to make you think it is both. Jumping frantically from one timeline to another, he accomplishes the task of disorienting the viewer, but not in a good way. The final act plays out in a distorted Kafkaesque fashion with no real satisfaction at the end. When the lights came up in the theater, I heard an audible huff of disappointment from the other patrons.

In the end, Oculus seems to be a victim of its own self-importance. This has all been done before and done much better. The scares are few and far between, and while I commend the film’s choice to follow in The Conjuring’s footsteps and emphasize terror and fear over gore, it mostly doesn’t work in this case…that is unless you have a fear of mirrors and shattered glass. In which case, prepare for scares-a-plenty! C

Oculus is rated R and has a running time of 1 hour and 45 minutes.