Friday, March 20, 2020

Doctor Sleep: A Review and Reflection (Review #1365)

Image result for doctor sleepDOCTOR SLEEP

I have long argued that one of the reasons Doctor Sleep bombed at the box office was due to the title. While it is the same title as that of Stephen King's The Shining sequel, Doctor Sleep sounds...boring. It almost seems to taunt its audience with the word "Sleep" in the title, as if by watching it you would nod off. Somehow, the name Doctor Sleep sounds less horror and more almost cutesy comedy.

It is far from cutesy.

In a sense, I feel it might be unfair to review Doctor Sleep given I did not finish it, watching only an hour of this two-and-a-half hour film. However, the reason I stopped watching is an important reason as to why I not only stopped the film, but decided to write on it. I will write up to where I stopped then offer my reasons for both stopping Doctor Sleep and why I think it is perhaps not just the worst thing I have seen but the most grotesque.

Jumping from events in The Shining in 1980 to 2011 and eight years later, Doctor Sleep's first hour has three separate stories that you know will eventually blend but take an exceptionally long time to so much as come into contact. The main story that I saw revolves around Danny or Dan Torrence (Ewan McGregor). He still has "the shining", his powerful psychic abilities. He is a drunk with a mess of a life until he moves to New Hampshire, joins AA and works as an orderly at a hospice, where his ability to ease people into death earns him his nickname.

Image result for doctor sleep
The secondary story revolves around The True Knot, a coven that feeds off those who have "the shining", primarily children. Led by Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), they welcome a new member to their coven: Andi (Emily Aylin Lind), who has the power to convince others to do what she wants by hypnotic suggestion. As part of their feeding, they abduct and kill Bradley Trevor (Jacob Tremblay), whose ritualistic slaying is witnessed by the third part of this sprawling story: Abra (Dakota Hickman), a girl whose shining power is beyond anything anyone has seen.

She makes psychic contact with Dan, letting him know that "Baseball Boy" has been killed.

It's at this point that I stopped watching.

If I were to focus just on what I had seen, Doctor Sleep had a myriad of problems before we got to that one aspect that so literally sickened me that I could not watch anymore. Writer/director Mike Flanagan, to be fair, was in a nearly impossible situation. He was adapting a sequel to a novel whose story most people know primarily from the 1977 Stanley Kubrick film than from the books themselves. Thus, he is relying on people not just knowing but recalling intimate details from a 42-year-old film. For those who have never seen or heard of The Shining or who do not have knowledge of every metaphorical nook and cranny of the Overlook Hotel, Doctor Sleep is going to be very muddled at the very least. At worst, the extensive mythology is going to be downright incomprehensible. 

Image result for doctor sleepA lot of Doctor Sleep essentially expects viewers to know All About Overlook, and even if someone had seen The Shining they may not have revisited it so recently that they would know what was going on. Some aspects of The Shining have entered the collective cinematic memory, but are viewers genuinely going to recall so much that the audience connection is guaranteed? I saw The Shining many years ago, and while I can recall bits and pieces I cannot say I know enough to know every shout-out Doctor Sleep throws at me.

Its difficulty in balancing the novels The Shining and Doctor Sleep plus The Shining film already hampers Doctor Sleep the film. Add to that the thoroughly glacial pacing. Twelve minutes of post-Shining Danny and you still wonder not so much what is going on but where it is going and if it is ever going anywhere. At least in the first hour I saw I didn't connect with Danny/Dan. McGregor had nothing to do but look sad. Even worse, the True Knot coven did not look menacing save for that one part that appalled me. For the most part, they shifted from bored to almost spoof, in particular Ferguson's Rose the Hat, who seemed so camp to me. The True Knot was unintentionally hilarious in their faux-seriousness.

Throw into the mix the very dull Abra story which for that first hour was all but forgotten. No matter how hard they tried, I could not find spoons on the ceiling scary.

If you think on it, the first hour of Doctor Sleep covers nearly thirty years, and felt fifty times longer.

Then we come to the one part that so disgusted me that I just stopped the film and decided I would not watch any more.

Image result for doctor sleep bradley trevor death scene
It is when The True Knot abducts and kills Bradley Trevor, age 12, the "baseball boy" to Abra. Yes, Doctor Sleep does have as part of its opening the killing of another child, Violet (Violet McGraw), but in that part the killing is more implied. With Brad, the killing is far more graphic and overt.

Here is the set-up: in Iowa, the True Knot senses that there is someone with the shining, and one of them scouts a Little League-like baseball game where he overhears that Brad always gets a hit, as if he knows what's coming (the suggestion that he knows because he can read the pitcher's mind). He is abducted by persuasion when Andi essentially hypnotizes him, but by the time he is taken to his execution the hypnosis has worn off.

Brad, in between hitting and sobbing to his abductors, screams and begs for his life, swearing he won't tell. Brad is then tied up on the ground as the coven hovers over him. Again, as he screams, cries and pleads, he sobs whether he will feel pain. "Yes", Rose the Hat almost coos before starting to stab him. Brad's screams of pain and terror, the blood-splattered face and chest, the torture he is put through is enjoyed by the True Knot as they breathe in his screams that escape. This entire sequence is not perhaps on par with a snuff film, but it was far too much for me as a viewer.

I do not, cannot and will not watch child killing, even fictional, for entertainment.

I don't think it was accidental that Brad is killed in his baseball uniform. A boy in a baseball uniform, from Iowa, is as close to an American archetype as one has. It suggests childhood innocence, and perhaps this is what they were aiming for. However, it is a bridge too far for me.

It is my choice to stop watching something that brings me no pleasure. I already was finding Doctor Sleep boring (showing that the film's title was already accurate). However, seeing a child tied up and murdered, even in what is a supernatural story, is for me too grotesque to continue watching a film that has that.

I have seen bad films before, some that have disgusted me on a high level, such as The Fanatic. I have seen bad film whose badness comes from their ineptness without a sense of maliciousness, such as Phil. As bad as The Fanatic and Phil were, and as distasteful as I found the former, at least those committing their horrors were adults and there was enough separation between viewer and film to not make it downright monstrous. With Doctor Sleep, there was none of that, at least for me.

There are certainly cinematic ways to make clear Brad was murdered without resorting to seeing little boys tied up and stabbed while sobbing for their lives. There was simply no need to be as graphic as Doctor Sleep opted to be. You can imply things, and sometimes the implications are more horrible and effective than visually spelling it out. There was little left to the imagination with Brad's murder in Doctor Sleep, and why would I continue watching something that brings me no joy, no entertainment, nothing but a sickening feeling?

As a side note, the graphic nature of the violence is what equally appalled me about Rambo: Last Blood. I know there will be some violence, which I can accept given that it is adults doing terrible things to other adults. However, the violence in Last Blood was so visual I was sickened and have refused to review it as it would require me to see it again, which I do not want to ever do.

I am sure there will be those reading this who will tell me to lighten up, that it's only a movie, that the actors and production crew genuinely care for children and that Tremblay was both fine with it all and is perfectly well-adjusted. After all, he got through Room quite well, a film that I gave high marks to. Am I not hypocritical for praising Room but condemning Doctor Sleep?

Obviously I don't think so: I don't remember Room being graphic, and certainly not to how Doctor Sleep was. I can say only how Brad's murder affected me as a viewer: it was too much, it was unnecessary to see, and ultimately it nauseated me to such a point that I not only left the room but decided not to complete Doctor Sleep.

Doctor Sleep already was looking bad before we got kidnapping and child killings into the mix. I like to think I have a strong enough constitution to sit through just about anything. I could not after watching a child murdered. I think for as long as I may live, Doctor Sleep will be one of my biggest regrets.


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