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We all have our ghosts,
And we carry them close,
An undying weight
Doctors can’t diagnose.

Our parents, our fears
Echo on through the years,
And so many drown them
In vices and beers.

The shaft of despair
Has no bottom down there
But does have a top
If we’d only seek air.

Yourself you may yield,
With no hope to be healed,
But the sight of another
In need of a shield,

Unbent, hopeful yet,
In the path of a threat,
Just might be enough
To redeem your regret.


MPA rating: R (for horror violence, language, and that creepy naked ghost from The Shining)

Where has October gone? I’m thinking I should probably stop apologizing for the long stretches in between posts since the demands of full-time work and school just make it hard to find enough time for anything else. Nevertheless, I felt like Halloween was a good time to make my return to the blogosphere and resurrect my annual tradition of reviewing a scary movie that I watched by myself late at night. Past notables include The Conjuring, The Babadook, and Under the Shadow, and this year’s is also up there with the best.

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With so many sequels being made to cash in on thirty-to-forty-year-old classics, it was easy to underestimate Doctor Sleep, the long-delayed follow-up to The Shining and likewise based on Stephen King’s novel of the same name. Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of the original may have been divisive, but it’s iconic enough that you would think Hollywood would have the sense to leave it alone. (Then again, look at Ready Player One.) Yet this subsequent story about a grown-up Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) turns out to be more than worthy of its celebrated ancestor and creates a surprisingly mature and entertaining tale built on the trauma of the Overlook Hotel.

Whereas many of these decades-later sequels are content to rehash more or less the same story as the original, Doctor Sleep goes the other way, showing far more interest in the underdeveloped psychic abilities of Danny and others than in the haunting of malicious ghosts. This “shining” or “steam” that only a few individuals possess makes those people targets, not just for spirits but for a vampiric cult called the True Knot, led by the top-hatted Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), who seek out such gifted children to torture and consume their essence. Over the years, Danny has sunk into alcoholism and despair, yet when the spunky Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a particularly powerful wielder of the “shining,” makes herself known, Danny decides to help her fend off the unholy villains craving her power.

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One of the most interesting aspects of Doctor Sleep is that it almost feels like a superhero origin story. While Danny thought he had to suppress his psychic talents, young Abra revels in them and proves to be a match for Rose herself, putting the girl in even more danger. In that superhero vein, the good guys are unfailingly sympathetic, even lovable (I liked recognizing a RWBY figurine and poster in Abra’s room, perhaps connecting her own gifts with that show’s concept of semblance abilities), while the bad guys are irredeemably despicable. One scene of child torture could have been worse but went on uncomfortably long for my taste, even if it confirmed just how wicked the True Knot were.

Of course, I would have liked it to be less R-rated, but the story itself and its thoughtful script is masterfully composed, from the gradual development of the True Knot’s nature to the psychic friendship between Danny and Abra to Danny’s overcoming of his latent shame and terror surrounding his childhood. One scene between Danny and the ghost of his father has some powerful dramatic tension that almost overshadows the horror tension that follows. It seems too long at two and a half hours, but it’s a length that feels deserved rather than unnaturally stretched like, say, the Hobbit movies. Another interesting creative choice is the recasting of Jack Nicholson, Shelley Duvall, and Scatman Crothers with very close lookalikes (including Henry Thomas as Jack Torrance) rather than any attempt at digital manipulation, which feels more natural even if the difference is unmistakable. And the film definitely points back to its roots by the end, providing some difficult catharsis that The Shining lacked.

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I’ve never been a huge fan of The Shining, even if I appreciate the iconic terror of its most memorable scenes. Too much was left unexplained for my taste, and as I said, it offered no closure to its tale of insanity. In contrast to the claustrophobia of the first film’s secluded setting, Doctor Sleep builds up a far more expansive world without wasting Danny’s history, an accomplishment that transcends its status as a horror movie. While The Shining prided itself on dread and insanity, Doctor Sleep actually manages some hope as well, which makes it the superior film, in my opinion. Director Mike Flanagan is no slouch when it comes to horror, and Doctor Sleep is a testament to his skill as writer and director. Even Stephen King himself said it “redeemed” his dislike for the first film, which is as high praise as any adaptation sequel could wish.

Best line: (Danny) “Our beliefs don’t make us better people. Our actions make us better people.”

Rank:  List Runner-Up

© 2020 S.G. Liput
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Happy Halloween, everyone!