A weird thing happened to me while at home for the pandemic. I watched a Stephen King movie that’s actually pretty darned good. No, not The Stand, which King recently apologized for publicly, it being about the end of the world following a pandemic. Doctor Sleep is the sequel to The Shining, which is still one of my favorite Stephen King books. It’s one of his earlier novels, published before all editors in the world were banned by the Geneva Convention to use any kind of editing device on his bloated novels. The Stand was relieved of over four hundred pages of fat and baggage before its re-release years later at over twelve hundred pages. I shudder to think what The Shining looked like in its original form. It was later turned into a much beloved film by that destroyer of original classics, Stanley Kubrick. a
Yeah, I’m not a fan of that film and never was. The moment Jack Nicholson walks into the film you know he’s already batshit crazy, and the book only ever seemed to be a suggestion for how the movie progressed. I’ve always hated when that happens, especially the moment they totally wasted a major character by killing them off before they had actually done anything to affect the plot. The book Doctor Sleep, which I read several years ago because someone loaned it to me, I found to be an interesting story about what happens to little Danny Torrence from the original book and movie, twenty years later. I had never cared what happened to the little schmuck, who in the movie was portrayed by a horrible kid actor who croaked “redrum” over and over while holding up his finger for us to sniff. In the book, and in this movie, Danny has ended up living a rough, wandering life of the severe drunkard. He’s trying to forget what happened, and trying to hide from his gift of The Shine.
That seems understandable and relatable, and that’s how much of the story I expected to enjoy, it being Stephen King. But then I was surprised that the rest is a pretty interesting story of a young girl who also has The Shine and how they meet and take on a seriously evil bunch of bad guys who ”eat dreams and drink pain”. The kid actor recreating the iconic scenes from the original The Shining and portraying his life just after those events is actually a real, good actor. The scenes look even better than the original, I think. It didn’t take long for me to figure out that Doctor Sleep is based on the movie, not so much the book. It’s a little weird to think a great book turned into a horrible movie was followed by an okay sequel turned into a genuinely good movie.
The film starts with the very sad demise of King’s favorite victim, a small child. We’re introduced to baddie Rose the Hat, who is stunningly gorgeous and absolutely believable as the evil leader of a creepy group of gypsies. For a while the film jumps back and forth from the building danger of the bad guys and Danny hiding in a bottle, to flashbacks of his early life. Those were so well done that I found myself wishing there was a movie from these filmmakers showing the kid growing up into the drunk. I was surprised (because I had forgotten a lot of the book) to see a second kid murder. This is not a film for the squeamish.
Another surprise, if you know anything about Stephen King is that the heroic kid is a twelve year old girl instead of the twelve year old boy he has trotted out in every other work. She has been strong with The Shine all her life, and is entirely self taught. In the inevitable confrontation between good and bad, it’s a battle of raw power versus venal experience.
The pace of the film is steady and not too slow, with a buildup to the final scenes that didn’t seem to accelerate, which I found refreshing and more thrilling than the typical ramping up in the last ten minutes. Because it’s from a King novel the end is a little lame, but not nearly as much as usual so I found it really satisfying. I didn’t notice anything off kilter, from the acting to the cinematography to the costuming and music. It’s a solid film. In the large pantheon of Stephen King movies, that’s a rare feat.
If you’re a fan of Stephen King, you’ve probably already seen Doctor Sleep. If you haven’t yet you really should. If you’re not a fan of Stephen King I recommend seeing this anyway, if you like creepy horror movies that maybe have too many kid deaths in them. Watching it was a pleasant surprise for me, because I’ve always wanted to love his books and movies but have been so often disappointed over the years that I’ve become cynical about them. Doctor Sleep is the rare King movie that is better than the novel. I enjoyed it and I think you will, too.
STEPHEN KING’S DOCTOR SLEEP – Official Teaser Trailer [HD]
CFR: In Addition: Oh Wow! I’m glad Mildred liked this. I really want to see it. Hooray for renting online.