Thursday, 7 November 2019
Look Before You Sleep
2019 USA Directed by Mike Flanagan
UK cinema release print.
Warning: Contains spoilers for the original novel of Doctor Sleep.
Doctor Sleep is a pretty good film but I’m really surprised that Stephen King himself, the author of this sequel to his earlier book The Shining, has endorsed it. It’s not a secret that King hated Stanley Kubrick’s movie adaptation of The Shining (reviewed by me here) because of the way it differed from the novel and there are two reasons why I would have thought that King would have been equally damning of this new movie adaptation of Doctor Sleep. One is that the last third of the movie is nothing like the last third of the original book (which I reviewed here). It takes so many more liberties with the text than Kubrick did on his adaptation of The Shining and the ending is completely changed. That in itself would have been something he would be quite critical of, I’d have thought but you also have to factor in that director Mike Flanagan (who directed the wonderful Absentia, which I reviewed here) has deliberately synched it in visually, in a lot of it, to Kubrick’s version of The Shining... which King hated. So, yeah, puzzled but happy, at least, that the famous horror novelist is finally recognising a good movie, albeit a slightly flawed version of his original novel here.
So lets get to it then.
The film will give fans of Kubrick’s original chills right from the opening Warner Brothers logo, as the Newton Brothers recreate the first few bars of Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind’s opening title variation of the Deus Irae from The Shining before they go into their own thing. The film starts off not long after the original and we get some scenes showing Danny and his mother after the events of that film. These two don’t look as much like the original actors as you might like but they’ve done their best to make them look like variations of what they might look like at that point in time. Then the movie picks up speed and jumps to Ewan McGregor playing a grown up version of the first film’s/novel’s central child protagonist Danny Torrance, first in the scene where he wakes up in a woman’s bed in full ‘morning after’ mode and, then, as he ends up in New Hampshire and is helped back into both employment and into the local alcoholics anonymous group by his new friend Billy (played here by Cliff Curtis). We also get background on the group of antagonists called The Knott, headed up by Rebecca Ferguson as Rose The Hat.
The film then jumps forward another eight years and carries on with the story of the novel for a good way, building up the tension in The Knott but precluding them systematically dying from measles due to contaminated steam (steam is basically their name for the essence found inside people who ‘shine’). So we get them noticing the young girl protagonist Abra (who has a powerful version of ‘the shining’ in her and who is played by Kyliegh Curran here) and we get Abra’s psychic relationship with Danny reaching the point that, after she psychically witnesses the slow murder and absorption of a kid at the hands of The Knott, she seeks Danny out in real life and the two ultimately hatch a plan to put a stop to The Knott before The Knott can find and kill them too.
Then, around about the point where The Knott spring a trap set by Danny, Abra and Billy, the film deviates massively from the original novel in a lot of ways. Although the last battle takes place in the grounds of the Overlook Hotel it’s only Rose in that final battle and not a big battle royale with a large portion of The Knott. Also, in the book the Overlook is no longer there and The Knott have their campsite in the ruins. In the movie, Danny and Abra lure Rose to the still standing Overlook Hotel for their final showdown. There are other characters that make more appearances than they did in the novel too and, frankly, the number of survivors of ‘the good guys’ and the specific people still left standing at the end is completely different. It is like watching a new story from this point on.
It all looks and sounds fabulous though. The performances by McGregor, Ferguson and Curran are brilliant and Curtis give solid support as Billy. In fact, there really isn’t a bad performance in this movie. Even Alex Essoe, who takes over from Shelley Duvall as Danny’s mum Wendy, does a good job here... especially since she doesn’t look all that like the original actress (the same could perhaps be said of whoever they’ve got playing Jack Torrance in lieu of Jack Nicholson here... I can’t find out who plays him in this as the Internet seems somehow shrouded in mystery about him right now).
The last third features a lot more Stanley Kubrick references (pitching in with the references at the opening of the film) and it’s a fun time if you’re an admirer of the Kubrick picture. Some of the sets and shot set ups have been recreated (and that’s down to the sound design too) but, nice as they are to look at, it’s all a bit of a strange mix up. For instance, in the novel, Jack Torrance makes an appearance right at the end in a rescue/redemption moment. Here that’s gone and the scene and necessity for his appearance is also not here... instead, Flanagan tries to shoehorn the character into a much bigger role and... honestly, it doesn’t work that well here, I think. Also, the character’s effect on Danny and the subsequent chase scene is... well it’s a bit laboured, it seems to me.
However, the party guests, the brief reappearance of the twins and other things are done pretty well. One cameo and set up for the new denouement which people who haven’t read King’s The Shining may find puzzling is also strangely mixed in here and, like I said, if you have only seen Stanley’s take on the story, then it might seem like a really clumsy 'deus ex machina' moment. I’m talking about the boiler in the Overlook Hotel... I’m not going to say much about it here other than to remind readers that, in the original novel The Shining, it played a huge role... and I’m saying that bearing in mind that I haven’t read the novel since the late 1970s/early 1980s but, yeah, even I can remember the boiler room being a big thing in the book. So, yeah, Flanagan and co bring that back in to the mix but, like I said, it’s going to seem like a really sloppy addition if you haven't read The Shining.
The cinematography is all good though and the music from the Newton Brothers gets back nearer to the soundscape of The Shining soundtrack once you get into the last third. Honestly, there’s a series of shots which come just after the film really starts deviating from the book and I was kinda expecting them to happen and I was thinking, I hope they remember to properly use Carlos and Elkind’s Deus Irae here again... yeah, they do and although the sequence of shots is much, much shorter than the original ones the director is parodying (and shot at night in this instance), it does feel good when this little moment comes.
And that’s me done on this one I think. I hate the new ending as I thought the one in the book was perfect and, frankly, if King ever gets it into his head to write a third novel in that sequence, the movie studios are going to surely find it hard to adapt it after the big U-Turn ending this film takes. That being said, in spite of all these terrible changes plus the overuse of a character who would have been much better left as the brief but weighty appearance he has in the novel, I still thoroughly enjoyed the ride on this one and will certainly be grabbing the Blu Ray when this one gets released. UK fans of the score may want to know that there’s a CDR release of it on US Amazon which they’ll ship to the UK, if you want to hear the music properly rather than attempt to listen to a disappointing and compressed electronic download. Looking forward to giving that one a spin when it finally arrives in the mail. Anyway, Doctor Sleep is definitely something you should see if you liked the Kubrick version of The Shining but please don’t expect something close to the book... there are some wild deviations here.