I begin with an admission about The Shining. I never really cared for Stephen King’s original novel. It is a fine book, sure. It is a good read. But it does not stick with me in the way that Kubrick’s 1980 film-adaptation has haunted me my entire life. I never read Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep either, simply because it was not a continuation of the story that Kubrick committed to film.
The Shining is one of those instances where the adaptation is better than the book. This is a rare breed indeed; off the top of my head, I can safely include The Godfather and Jurassic Park on such a list.
The heart of the matter here is that, had I read Doctor Sleep, I am almost certain that the movie is better than the book. I say this because it is a pitch-perfect follow-up to Kubrick’s The Shining.
The Return of Danny Torrance
Doctor Sleep follows the crossing of paths between a survivor of the Overlook, Dan Torrance, a young, shining girl named Abra, and a collective of psychic vampires. Dan’s senses dulled by years of drinking and locking away the ghosts of the Overlook in his mind have left him directionless until he finds salvation in his friend Billy, A.A., and helping the dying travel to the other side in peace. With Dan’s shine off the radar, he thankfully misses out on catching the attention of Rose the Hat and The True Knot, a group of quasi-immortal psychic vampires, over the decades. This group hunts down people who shine and consumes their “steam,” or a manifestation of their shine.
Danny, however, finds himself newly awakened with his shine when he befriends a young girl named Abra, who shines so bright that The True Knot seek to consume her. How does Danny fight those who seek to consume his and Abra’s very gifts?
The film is directed by Mike Flanagan (of Netflix’s The Haunting of Hill House). Flanagan is also is credited for the screenplay. Doctor Sleep stars Ewan McGregor as Dan Torrance, Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, and Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone. The film also features Cliff Curtis, Zahn McClarnon, and Emily Alyn Lind.
What worked about Doctor Sleep?
At heart, Doctor Sleep is very much about coping with trauma. Danny Torrance is haunted not only by his father’s violence but by the Overlook and its many ghosts who still crave him and his shine over the decades. This leaves us with Danny as a shell of a man in many regards, sadly echoing his father’s alcoholism and drifting from tragedy to tragedy. The Overlook left its mark, and much like how his role as Doctor Sleep helps the elderly deal with their deaths so too does the film Doctor Sleep help to provide closure and context for Dan.
Whereas The Shining is a very cold and impersonal film to depict the exploration of madness and isolation, Doctor Sleep runs warmer. The film is more crowded and concerned with the emotional wellbeing of the protagonists, and it serves as a companion piece to Kubrick’s classic. The Shining is the trauma and Doctor Sleep is the coping mechanism. At heart, these are very different films with very different aims, and yet they work together and build off one another.
The family that occupied the Overlook those faithful months before its closure was already destroyed before Jack, Wendy, and Danny stepped inside. The Shining ends with the impression that Danny would not be okay. It was not that sort of film, that sentimentality was beyond Kubrick. Danny grew up to be Dan, traumatized and never able to find closure with his mother. Doctor Sleep fills us in on that legacy, but it also provides hope that you could never find in The Shining.
Keep in mind that the film is not just Danny’s story, but also the story of Abra and Rose. All three narrative threads are strong. Just as Dick Halloran helped Danny to understand his shine, Dan, too, helps young Abra. “Ka is a wheel,” a thematic thread throughout King’s work of the last twenty years, plays out beautifully here. It also helps that Rose the Hat is a stunning villain; a dream-like figure with an undeniable charm and clear menace.
The film delivers exactly what you would want to see in a follow-up to The Shining. The nature of the Overlook’s ghostly residents ensures a key conversation occurs that I will not spoil here. You already know what it is, deep down, though, and I can confirm that it delivers chills.
What Didn’t work with Doctor Sleep?
While the film as a whole is excellent, there are elements that could have been better. Namely, at 2 hours and 31 minutes, the film suffers from bloat, which likely stems from the source material. Flanagan has to accomplish a lot of things within that run-time, and it is a testament to the film that the runtime does not feel overly long. The film isn’t much longer than its predecessor, but it feels denser because of everything it needs to juggle.
A lot of that bloat most assuredly falls on the shoulders of King. The True Knot, while interesting, is a rather large group of antagonists. We only really know the names of five of them. The film could have easily excised a fair number of psychic vampires and still had the same effect and level of threat.
The same goes for catching up with Danny over the decades. His journey is fascinating, but it is also a long one. The film could have easily started with Danny at the hospice center, performing his Doctor Sleep duties. His backstory could be revealed in small moments here and there, but getting us up to speed with his selfless, yet hesitant existence takes a while.
These are all minor quibbles, however.
It is a miracle that a successful sequel to The Shining can exist that manages to soothe the division that existed between Kubrick’s adaptation and Stephen King’s source material. The film really is a wonder. Something with this much baggage should not work as well as it does. (5 / 5)
How did you enjoy Doctor Sleep? Why not let us know in the comments? Meanwhile, stick around here at Haunted MTL. You never know what other Doctor Sleep content might show up…
Movies n TV
The Beach House, a Film Review
The Beach House (2019) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown starring Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, and Jake Weber.
The Beach House (2020) is a body horror film directed and written by Jeffrey A. Brown. This film stars Liana Liberato, Noah Le Gros, Jake Weber, and Maryann Nagel. As of this review, this film is only available on Shudder.
Desperate to rekindle their strained love, Emily (Liana Liberato) and Randall (Noah Le Gros) escape to a beach getaway. They soon learn to find that family friends of Randall’s father, Mitch (Jake Weber), and Jane (Maryann Nagel), also had a similar idea. After getting used to each other, a mysterious fog engulfs the town. Unfortunately, they realize too late the danger they find themselves in.
What I Like
Body horror gets under my skin, and The Beach House certainly lives up to the standard. There’s something magical about creatures terraforming your body to their preferred environment, turning humans into nothing more than conscious prisoners in their own flesh. While I wouldn’t consider this film the most traumatic or unsettling example, it utilizes wonderfully grotesque scenes.
Aside from the body horror, the film drops a few Cosmic Horror–or Lovecraftian–vibes that go together perfectly. Another favored genre of mine, this combination ensures the odds are overwhelmingly against our human leads.
Beyond the grotesque, visuals might not overwhelm but certainly succeed in their goal. Several scenes provide an intentionally tranquil experience that contrasts with the grotesques and improves their effectiveness.
In terms of performance, each actor hits their mark. While some roles require less effort, each contributes to the plot as intended. The standout performance goes to Liana Liberato’s Emily, who acts as co-lead. She simply has the most to work with and lives up to the part.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
As “body horror” should indicate, this film will hit hard for the more squeamish viewer. While horror by nature has some amount of grotesque, body horror brings that grotesque to the next level. While I don’t particularly find The Beach House hitting harder than its competition, it certainly respects its chosen genre.
What I Dislike or Considerations
A few scenic montages may hit or miss depending on your interpretation. While I have my own theories, that speculation goes beyond the scope of this review. Many of these scenes overlap more philosophical conversations and musings that may annoy or add layers. This strategy seems a common practice in Cosmic Horror, which forces characters to rationalize the irrational.
It’s hard for me to understand how secretive or known this event is supposed to be in the film’s world. Individuals know something outside of the town, with evidence implying governmental knowledge. This information creates a contrivance–perhaps, even a plot hole–because the characters had to reach this isolated town without any opposition.
One of the visuals didn’t exactly grab me. While I won’t go into too much detail, an effect looked too visually similar to a common animal that barely survives rain. It’s hard to be threatened by that. It also doesn’t exactly match up with some of the other visuals. Even the creatures that look similar to it still look different enough to provide a more alien assumption.
There are moments when the infected chase our main characters by crawling at them. While the context works, with injured characters helping to sell them, I can’t help but find these scenes amusing as opposed to frightening. Yes, it’s certainly visually different from the plethora of zombies out there, but it’s also less frightening than zombies that leisurely walk to their targets.
The Beach House combines cosmic and body horror to create an uncomfortable film that tests its characters. For those who enjoy these genres, it will certainly entertain you, but I doubt it will frighten you. I imagine the mood to watch it again might strike me, but I’m not entirely certain it will stand the test of time. (3 / 5)
If this movie suits your fancy and you want more, Honeymoon seems an appropriate recommendation.
Movies n TV
Every Secret Thing, a Film Review
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener, based on Laura Lippman’s novel.
Every Secret Thing (2014) is a crime thriller directed by Amy J. Berg and written by Nicole Holofcener. This R-rated film stars Diane Lane, Danielle Macdonald, Dakota Fanning, and Elizabeth Banks. Based on Laura Lippman’s novel of the same name, the film adaptation is accessible through MAX and DirecTV.
When a little girl goes missing, Nancy Porter (Elizabeth Banks) spirals into an all too familiar tale. As pressure mounts, Alice Manning (Danielle Macdonald) and Ronnie Fuller (Dakota Fanning) become the leading suspects. The strained frenemies unravel under the attention and reminders of their shared past.
What I Like
The film unravels in a non-chronological structure but makes it easy for the viewer to follow. It helps that the age difference clearly divides the younger actors, who change actors. One casting choice resembles their older counterpart, and the acting reflects a strong direction for their shared role.
Unreliable narration remains expertly communicated with scenes that change perspectives depending on whose perspective we view them from. This choice adds a reason to view the film twice, providing extra ambiguity for some of these events.
The camera gets up close and personal to an uncomfortable degree, which almost certainly presses the actors’ performances. This choice places the viewer in the character’s perspective and limits us from others’ perspectives to add extra credence to these biases.
Every Secret Thing provides a spiraling mystery that unravels with several twists and turns. Assuming the novel provided the outline, this film executes these points and keeps a consistently engaging experience throughout the runtime.
Tired Tropes and Trigger Warnings
Child abuse and neglect remain the central plot points of Every Secret Thing. Little of this abuse appears in scenes, but there is no escaping the danger children are in throughout the film.
Self-harm and suicide are shown throughout the film (once in the case of suicide) through one specific character. It isn’t glorified or romanticized nor addressed with particular sensitivity. For those sensitive to these subjects, it might be triggering.
Racism, the assumed motive for the bi-racial victims, plays a small role in the film’s narrative. However, character motives remain more complex, but going further spoils some elements. This film decision does create the reality that bi-racial children are the victims of child neglect and abuse in the film with little additional context. It does invite uncomfortable speculation, but speculation it would be.
Sexual assault is another concern for viewers, specifically statutory rape. This issue seems particularly mismanaged, considering the survivor remains an antagonist. One can be both survivor of assault and an antagonist of a film without needing to discredit the assault. While little appears of this issue, and the manipulation angle can indicate a perspective shift, it’s hard to refute how the film wants to represent this attack.
What I Dislike
Loosely tied to the above point, one character seems mentally off and purposely so. This point doesn’t inherently create an issue, but there seems to be a choice to make this character a mastermind. Perhaps this is better addressed in the book, but the execution is far from perfect here.
A newspaper montage reveals essential information which feels oddly misplaced. Practically the entire setup for the film appears through this montage, which creates the necessity to read these headlines in the minimal time given.
As a horror, nothing but the events are haunting. Children being abused or kidnapped always haunts, but the terror of this remains secondary to the mystery. While the mystery is nice, this film won’t particularly scare the seasoned horror fan.
Every Secret Thing unravels a mystery of opportunism, selfishness, and deception. While the movie won’t haunt the viewer, it certainly unravels a mystery that shocks them. The nuanced and deceptive characters add a layer of engagement that creates a unique experience, but I doubt this movie will linger in my mind.
(2.5 / 5)
Movies n TV
Quid Pro Woe
We’ve now reached episode six of Tim Burton’s Wednesday. And after the last episode, this one did not disappoint.
We start with Wednesday attempting to contact Goody Addams. Last episode, if you’ll recall, Morticia explained the difference between a psychic dove and a raven. Since Goody Addams was the last raven psychic in the family line, it’s got to be her that trains Wednesday.
But her seance is a failure, and Wednesday is interrupted by a magazine note shoved under the door. It says to meet someone at a crypt for answers.
When she gets there, it turns out that her friends have put together a surprise birthday party for her. Before she can cut the cake, however, she has a vision.
Goody Addams tells her that she must find a specific gate. After some investigation, Wednesday discovers it’s the gate to the old Gates house.
Wednesday goes to investigate, but she isn’t the only one. She is nearly discovered by Mayor Walker. He is also investigating the Gates family, even though they’re all reported to be dead. He leaves a message for Sheriff Galpin and is almost immediately run over by a car.
This incident is enough to get Wednesday’s town villages revoked. Though this seems like an empty punishment since the whole school is on lockdown. Someone burned Fire Will Rain on their front lawn.
Wednesday isn’t one for believing the rules apply to her. She has it in her head that she’s meant to save Nevermore Academy, probably from whatever descendent of Crackstone who’s still around. So she has no problem lying to Enid and Tyler and convincing them to help her sneak off campus and explore the Gates house further.
This, of course, is an incredibly informative trip. The kids find a hidden altar to Crackstone, as well as the missing body parts from the monster’s victims. They also find evidence that someone’s been staying in the house. Someone who’s staying in what looks like a little girl’s room.
Before they can find anything more, the monster finds them. They barely escape, and go to the sheriff with what they find.
Of course, the house has been cleared out by the time Sheriff Galpin arrives. Furious that his son was almost killed, he tells Wednesday to stay away from him.
Because that always works, right?
Galpin isn’t the only one angry. Enid is fed up with the way Wednesday has been treating her. And so she leaves their room to bunk with someone else, leaving Wednesday alone.
This episode was well done. The discoveries at the house were exciting, and I’m almost sure I know who’s behind the murders at this point. Overall, this was a good ramp-up to the season finale.
Finally, this episode did something I was worried just wasn’t going to happen. And for that alone, it deserves praise.
Wednesday has been incredibly selfish and inconsiderate since the first episode. She’s been rude and demanding towards Thing. She’s ignored her friends’ needs and emotions while insisting they put themselves in danger for her investigation. She has respected no one’s boundaries, even while other people have at least tried to respect hers.
And now, it’s finally come back to bite her. All of the people who have been doing their best to show her kindness and support are finally done with her bullshit.
Yes, this is a good thing! Characters are best when they’re allowed to learn and grow. When they don’t come to us flawless. When they mess up and learn from it. Especially for a show aimed at kids, this is essential.
If you’d asked me at the beginning of the season if this character was going to experience honest character growth, I’d have assured you it would never happen. Much to my surprise, it’s happening. I hope that Wednesday is going to come out of this a better person. With two episodes left in the season, there’s plenty of time for that. (4 / 5)