Dare To Go Back
Set three decades after the events in The Shining, Dan Torrance [McGregor] has become an alcoholic vagrant going from town-to-town, drinking, brawling and keeping himself distanced from those around him. He is then drawn to a small town where he tries to start over, gets clean and begins working in a hospice. At the same time we are introduced to a young girl who has similar abilities to Dan, a telepathic and telekinetic ability dubbed the shining, named Abra Stone who hides her abilities from her parents, fearing they will treat her differently. The film then jumps ahead several years later reintroducing us to a teenage Abra [Curran] and Dan as a stable and contributing member of society. Running concurrently to this, we follow a group of almost vampiric cultists – called the True Knot – who feed off of this shining quality (which they call steam), led by the eerie Rose the Hat [Ferguson]. After they claim the life of a young victim, they become aware of Abra and sensing her powers are potentially greater than any they have experienced before, set out to consume her. In order to prevent this, Dan must confront all of his literal and figurative inner demons.
It is my firm opinion that there are only a handful of flaws present in this release but they are of such a sizeable nature that it knocked my rating down from a four out of five, to a three; the first being the antagonists. It will likely be unanimously agreed that Rebecca Ferguson’s turn as Rose the Hat is a very enigmatic and commanding one. She is a fascinating and haunting individual but the group she operates with brings her down somewhat. Possibly my biggest frustration with this movie is that the True Knot troupe are a knowable enemy, which detracts a little because for all their actions the threat is never entirely real or felt and despite decent performances, there is never any doubt that the protagonists will succeed. As I haven’t read the source material, I cannot claim to know the differences between the book and the film but I have read both The Shining and watched the film and there is a distinct difference in their presentation. If you follow the book, the expanding knowable world of evil entities makes sense and Doctor Sleep is a wonderful addition. If your only experience of this setting is the movie, the answers and expansion that this new script provides somewhat cheapens the events of 1980’s The Shining with absolute clarification rather than broad interpretation. But I’ll expand on this point further later.
While Ewan McGregor may feel like an unusual choice to play an adult Danny Torrance, he proves himself extremely deft at giving us a conflicted, cagey individual eking out an existence as the son of an alcoholic and extreme trauma survivor, let alone someone who is continually visited by images of the dead. But despite the rough opening, it was genuinely rewarding to find Dan discover both a purpose and closure working in the old people’s ward and making the connection with Billy. I also felt Abra was an interesting and savvy character but as stated earlier, her levels of confidence ensure that we never overly worry for her wellbeing, even in the face of death. Without delving straight into spoilers, Abra seems more cut-up about the death of a stranger than a loved one. Maybe this is to illustrate a desensitisation or maturation but with a limited runtime, it simply felt rushed and regrettably undercooked.
Doctor Sleep provides a very engaging story but its predecessor is so iconic that it is an almost impossible act to follow. This isn’t merely some beaten-up horror franchise, it’s one of the few examples of high-brow horror adaptation by one of the true masters of cinema. What’s more, the imagery presented has become so exemplary and burned into the public consciousness that it creates a spectacularly daunting target for any creative to reach let alone surpass. Having said that, Flanagan has done an extremely impressive job walking the fine line of compromise between Kubrick and King’s clashing visions to create a very pleasing hybrid continuation that honours both versions. Things like the recasting of familiar roles is well played and in an era of de-aging technology, this serves to highlight that a part-imitation part-celebration performance can be something incredibly powerful. The only thing I could knock Flanagan for would be the fairly rudimentary direction. That isn’t to say he doesn’t do a good job or is in any way fundamentally lacking , it’s just that some of the most notable imagery comes from semi-fetishistic recreations of Kubrick’s concepts and never stands on its own two feet. Put another way, I don’t think I could put my finger on any particular shot or scene in the film that would stand the test of a decade to the degree that others will be imitating and studying it. But as with my very similar critique of Terminator: Dark Fate, this may be too much of a demand. Sometimes creating a solid instalment is more than enough and although it never exceeds what came before, the fact Doctor Sleep is able to pick up the baton and take it to the film’s close is a fantastic accomplishment in and of itself.
01 November 2019
The Scene To Look Out For:
While I derided the amount of time we spent with the True Knot, one of the earlier scenes where they recruit Snakebite Andi was particularly nice. In terms of establishing characters, motivations and abilities as well as intrigue and mystery, it is extremely well handled.
As stated the returning characters and recasting were dealt with proficiently but the increased usage serves to weaken the effect. For a specific example, let’s take the old lady in the bath. As a recurring piece of imagery her presence in The Shining is baffling and terrifying and unsettling. She’s not, as depicted in Ready Player One a fast, scuttling, knife wielding maniac, she’s just a creepy-ass naked decrepit lady. But for the fact we end up seeing her four or five times in this feature, even as a good recreation, she becomes almost comical and loses any edge of scariness. Which is likely intended to illustrate the idea that we can overcome our fears but sometimes scary stuff needs to stay scary.
“We’re all dying; the world is one big hospice with fresh air”
In A Few Words:
“A very strong postscript celebration of both the written and cinematic versions of The Shining and for that, it should be praised but without giving us anything truly captivating, it serves as little more than a decently crafted shadow”