The new movie that Mike Flanagan has written (based on a Stephen King novel) and directed is called “Doctor Sleep.” It functions as a sequel to maybe the greatest of all horror films, Stanley Kubrick’s “The Shining” (1980).
Of course the new movie doesn’t compare well with the classic. And of course it is weakest when it tries to explain the action in the original. Part of what makes “The Shining” an abiding favorite is that it doesn’t explain itself. At all. Doesn’t even suggest there may be explanations.
What happened in the first movie is that in it a family moves into large Colorado resort hotel so isolated that it is closed for the winter each year. The Torrences, including little Danny, the trike rider, are caretakers.
But the isolation gets to them. Father Jack (Jack Nicholson in one of his most famous parts) cracks and attacks his family. Danny discovers he has the ability to see supernatural evils and that he is a telepath.
“Doctor Sleep” doesn’t so much channel the original film as it does draft on it, especially at its last set of climaxes.
That’s set at the resort, which is now derelict.
We don’t get to that until we are already pretty tired — this is a long film. It has several endings, and most of them could come at any time inside a range of half an hour or so. In other words, the endings seem arbitrary.
Danny has grown up. He is now played by Ewan McGregor, a happy choice. Danny is an alcoholic troubled by supernatural signals.
He arrives in a small New England town — remember, this is based on a Stephen King book — and quickly gets a job and joins AA. Eight years later, he is healthier at least.
Then, he starts to sense two different sets of psychic powers. One belongs to a neighbor girl, 13 year-old Abra (a name apparently short for “Abracadabra,” a conventional expression used by magicians). She is played by Kyliegh Curran, who has a decent outing.
Then, there’s a distant psychic disturbance associated with a squad of vagabonds. These Winnebago riders behave essentially like vampires, except they inhale the supernatural smoke given off by the dying rather than drinking blood.
Their leader is hat-wearing Rose (Rebecca Fergusson). The smoke they’ve been getting has been pretty thin. This is a sign of the times. But they find, torture, kill and bury a little leaguer who can intuit the nature of coming pitches.
That death causes the disturbance both Abra and Danny hear. They join forces to try to negate the evil of the travelers, who are already getting low on stored death-smoke.
The new movie’s story essentially ends when our hero and junior heroine ambush most of the villains. Then it turns back to “The Shining,” suggesting that Dan and Abra need the supernatural location to neutralize Rose. This is strange because Abra already had marked success acting alone against the hatted one.
Getting out to the old Overlook allows the new film to try to explain some of what Danny experienced in the old film. It also lets it use almost all (not the bear) of the scary images from the original movie.
Probably the new movie doesn’t do much harm to the effect of the old one. But it doesn’t gain much by the return to the deserted resort, either. And the endings the movie offers go on and on and on, with successive ones replacing all that have gone before.
Eventually this atmosphere-rich movie ends. And one is modestly thankful for its 151 minutes (not including ads or previews).
Still, there can be no mistake that we were only amused by “Doctor Sleep.” “The Shining” still haunts more than a few dreams, 40 years on.