[Screen It]


(2019) (Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson) (R)

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Horror: A man who survived supernatural phenomena as a child meets a girl who has psychic powers just like him, and they must use those against a quasi-immortal clan that wants to kill them for their powers.
When he was 5-years-old, Danny Torrance (EWAN McGREGOR) and his mother managed to survive supernatural phenomena at the remote Overlook Hotel where their father took a caretaker job only to lose his mind and tried to kill them. With the help of the spirit of that hotel's former chef, Dick Hallorann (CARL LUMBLY), who had similar psychic "shining" abilities like the boy, Danny managed to place the hotel's resident ghosts in mental boxes inside his head. Even so, and likely suffering from PTSD, Dan has grown up into a troubled alcoholic.

When he ends up in the small New Hampshire town of Frazier, a stranger, Billy Freeman (CLIFF CURTIS), takes Dan to an AA meeting and he gets his life in order, including working at the local hospice where he's earned the nickname "Doctor Sleep" for psychically reassuring dying patients that things are going to be okay.

But they don't stay that way for Dan as a young girl with powers like his, Abra Stone (KYLEIGH CURRAN), contacts him through a blackboard on a wall in his rented loft. That comes to a head when she has a vision of a quasi-immortal woman, Rose the Hat (REBECCA FERGUSON), and her small clan of vampiresque followers -- including Crow Daddy (ZAHN McCLARNON) and the newly recruited Snakebite Andi (EMILY ALYN LIND) -- killing a young boy, all to extract and consume his shining power.

With Rose the Hat sensing Abra's presence, Dan realizes the woman will probably come for the girl and thus him, all of which means a return trip to the Overlook Hotel might be the only way to deal with the perilous situation.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10
Pretty much everyone has some sort of special ability or skill they can showcase on demand. For some people, that can be something major that gains them fame and fortune. When it comes to the rest of us, it's usually more along the lines of showing off some personal trick that might be fun or interesting, but doesn't have any potential monetary or other gain related to it.

For me, it's that I can give myself goose bumps on command, whenever I want. And that stems from one source and one source only -- the opening title crawl music to Stanley Kubrick's horror masterpiece, "The Shining." Specifically, that's the adapted excerpt of Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique as accompanied by some creepy, otherworldly vocalizations as the camera glides through the Colorado Rockies on the way to the Overlook Hotel.

I can get the bumps going just from humming that tune in my head or, of course, from watching the movie. In my opinion, it's the greatest horror film ever made and one that works on a number of fascinating levels (not even including all of the rumors and conspiracy theories about visual clues and such the filmmaker allegedly included).

One person who wasn't impressed was Stephen King, the author of the 1977 novel on which the 1980 film was based (and, like most movies, took artistic liberties with). King so famously didn't like it that he got behind a 1997 miniseries based on his work, and sixteen years later delivered a follow-up novel titled "Doctor Sleep."

Now we have an adaptation of that, and while I've yet to hear what King's critique might be, I can say that while it's not as stellar as Kubrick's film, it's pretty good. And with the horror flick beginning with those signature Berlioz notes, and later returning to them in full in the film's third act, the offering clearly had my goose bumps primed and ready to rise up.

Thankfully, the film doesn't follow in the footsteps of so many horror sequels in simply rehashing what occurred the first time around. Yes, some of what we saw and experienced so long ago is brought back to life, if you will, with this offering. But writer/director Mike Flanagan is smart and creative in the way he pulls that off in a part homage, part evolution of the material way that ties together Kubrick's version of the story and King's sequel.

I haven't read the latter, but did glance through a plot synopsis and think Flanagan took the right approach in making changes to what the novel offered. That said, much of what was present in the literary work still makes it up on the screen.

After a brief prologue introducing the villain (a terrific Rebecca Ferguson) and then a few scenes featuring young Danny, his mom Wendy and Dick Hallorann (all played by different performers than the first time around, a somewhat distracting necessity given the passage of time and without blowing up the budget to enlist computer horsepower to create doppelgangers), the main story kicks in.

Specifically, that shows Dan (Ewan McGregor) now grown up and a mess -- obviously the result of childhood supernatural trauma -- masking his PTSD with booze and one-night stands. I've always liked the actor and the nuances he brings to his characters (and he's a good guy for helping support the Go Campaign -- www.gocampaign.org) and that's certainly the case again here.

Dan eventually ends up in the small town of Frazier, New Hampshire where a friendly stranger (Cliff Curtis) arranges lodging for him in a spacious loft that features a large blackboard on the wall. Likely due to his childhood experiences and that he's earned the titular nickname at the local hospice for using his "shining" to comfort dying patients, he isn't that troubled when messages start appearing on that board.

They're from a young girl named Abra -- no, her last name isn't Cadabra -- winningly played by Kyliegh Curran. Her shining is so strong that not only can she anonymously contact Dan from a long distance, but she can also mentally witness Ferguson's "Rose the Hat" and her vampire-esque clan ritualistically killing a young boy (Jacob Tremblay) in order to breathe in and get quasi-immortality feeding nourishment from his "steam" (what they call the shining).

Unfortunately for Abra -- and Dan by association -- Rose has sensed the girl and her powers and either wants to bring her into their fold -- as they've recently done with a teenager (Emily Alyn Lind) -- or, conversely, feast on her scrumptious magic. That eventually leads to various confrontations including -- I'm happy to report, with goose bumps at the ready -- at the old Overlook.

I won't give anything else away, but if you're like me and enjoyed getting freaked out by Kubrick's time spent there, you're probably gonna love the return visit. While not the masterpiece that is the original film, this one is well made, features good scares and features an imaginative continuation of the story. "Doctor Sleep" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Reviewed October 30, 2019 / Posted November 8, 2019

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