“Doctor Sleep,” the latest cinematic adaptation of a Stephen King novel to hit the big screen, has everything going for it to be a really good movie. Excellent actors, such as Ewan McGregor and Rebecca Ferguson. Artful, restrained cinematography. Thrilling source material.
Unfortunately, “Doctor Sleep” — a sequel to “The Shining,” both on the page and on screen — just can’t live up to either King’s novel or to the iconic 1980 Stanley Kubrick film that came before it. It’s not a bad movie. It’s just not a good movie. It’s an OK movie.
The plot revolves around a grownup Dan Torrance (McGregor), the child protagonist of “The Shining.” A recovering alcoholic, he has run away from his childhood trauma and now lives in rural New Hampshire, where he uses his psychic powers (his “shine”) to help hospice patients pass away comfortably. He’s living relatively peacefully until he encounters Abra Stone, a teenager who has the same sort of psychic powers that he does — except even more powerful.
Abra, it turns out, is being chased by a dangerous cult called the True Knot, who search out people with those psychic powers, torture them and then literally feed off their power before killing them. This gives the cult members immortality, essentially, as well as some other limited powers of their own.
The True Knot is led by Rose the Hat, played with malevolent relish by Rebecca Ferguson. Ferguson is by far the best part of “Doctor Sleep” — her villain is sexy, sensual and decidedly evil, and it’s a delight to hate her as she does her wicked deeds.
McGregor plays Dan Torrance in a fairly subdued way — which may make sense, given the amount of trauma the character has undergone in his life, but makes him far less interesting than Rose, or than his teenage companion Abra, played by the young actor Kyliegh Curran, who imbues her with youthful energy.
As with so many Hollywood movies these days, “Doctor Sleep” is simply too long, clocking in at more than two and a half hours that tend to drag, in between flashes of excitement. In that way, it might have been better served as a limited TV series, rather than a feature film.
It also is haunted by a very real ghost: the ghost of Kubrick’s “The Shining,” a truly iconic piece of filmmaking that, all perfectly reasonable criticisms of Kubrick’s work aside, it is near-impossible for director Mike Flanagan to live up to. Flanagan is clearly a skilled filmmaker, but trying to follow something like “The Shining” is really a thankless job.
It is reminiscent of another recent movie that suffered from the weight of an unforgettable original film: “Blade Runner 2049,” a film that, try as it might, was just never going to be as good as the original “Blade Runner.” Despite having all the cinematic pieces in place — acting, art direction, script, source material — it just leaves you wanting to watch the first one instead.