‘Doctor Sleep’ Demonstrates That You Can Never Fully Outrun the Darkness of Your Childhood

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CREDIT: Warner Bros.

Starring: Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson, Kyleigh Curran, Cliff Curtis, Carl Lumbly, Zahn McClarnon, Emily Alyn Lind, Bruce Greenwood, Zackary Momoh, Jocelin Donahue

Director: Mike Flanagan

Running Time: 152 Minutes

Rating: R for Creepy Nudity, Shotguns Fired at Supernatural Villains, and an Overall Generally Disturbing Vibe

Release Date: November 8, 2019

The end of 1980’s The Shining did not promise that all would be well for little Danny Torrance. But the opening act of Doctor Sleep is much more encouraging. Danny and his mom Wendy have made it out of the Overlook Hotel, but they haven’t quite escaped it. Danny is still being harassed by the spectral residents, but thanks to a few words of advice from the ghost of Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly taking over for the late Scatman Crothers), he is able to firmly close the door on them and keep them at bay. But cut to thirty years later, and Dan (now played by Ewan McGregor) isn’t looking so good anymore. We meet him anew as an alcoholic getting brutally beaten up at a bar and stealing money during a one-night stand from a single mom after she stole money from him to buy cocaine.

I am not an alcoholic myself, so I do not know what it feels like to deal live with that disease. But now that I have seen Doctor Sleep, I imagine that alcoholism must resemble the experience of being constantly surrounded by relentless supernatural villainy. Or at least I imagine that’s what it feels like for Stephen King, who has been public about his struggles with the bottle and has used it for inspiration in his own work. How else to explain the prologue to Doctor Sleep, which feels like a happy ending, but is instead a red herring that leads into more than two hours of evil letting us know that it’s not done with us? It must be agony to endure all that pain when intellectually you know, as Danny does, how to fight it off but you just cannot bring yourself to do it.

But perhaps that understanding of the darkness is ultimately where Danny is able to draw his strength from. He certainly needs all of it, as there is a new threat in the form of Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), who leads a band of vagabonds who are basically energy vampires. They are not quite immortal, but they have lived for centuries by feeding off the life force of people with remarkable abilities. They have their sights set on thirteen-year-old Abra Stone (Kyleigh Curran), who exceeds perhaps even Danny with her mastery of the shining (which is basically a combination of telepathy and clairvoyance, as well as something akin to astral projection).

One of the biggest pleasures of the film version of The Shining was how it left so many of its striking images ambiguous, often cutting away before we had a chance to make sense of what was happening or even where we were spatially or temporally. Doctor Sleep is at its strongest when it follows this approach, and there are plenty of opportunities to do so as Danny and Abra commune via the shining. Even moments of revisiting specific settings from The Shining do not play as fan service, but rather, they have an ominous sort of “we shouldn’t be here, we’re playing with fire” vibe. The only major misstep is when writer/director Mike Flanagan’s script over-explains what is happening. I haven’t read the Stephen King novel that the film is based on, but King has a reputation of being a little wordy, and that seeps into the film a bit. But otherwise, Doctor Sleep is a solid frightener about how the darkness within human brains can be quite demandingly resilient.

Doctor Sleep is Recommended If You Like: The Shining, But the Stephen King Element More Than the Stanley Kubrick Element

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Mind Tombs

This Is a Movie Review: Gerald’s Game

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Geralds-Game_Carla-Gugino_Bruce-Greenwood

CREDIT: Netflix

This review was originally posted on News Cult in September 2017.

Starring: Carla Gugino, Bruce Greenwood

Director: Mike Flanagan

Running Time: 103 Minutes

Rating: Unrated, But It Would Easily Be an R for Cuttingly Physical and Psychological Entrapment

Release Date: September 29, 2017 (Streaming on Netflix)

If you watch Netflix’s new movie Gerald Game, chances are you might do so on a computer. Often in such a viewing scenario, it is advisable to wear headphones to get the full aural experience. But in this case, it must be noted that that full experience might be unbearable. Bones are squeezed, flesh and blood is squished around, and the sound mix does not hold back in making all that as nauseating as possible. I generally have decent fortitude when it comes to horror grossness, but I had to look away and unplug my headphones for significant stretches. In case there was any doubt, a personal computer is more penetrative than a public theater.

Based on a 1992 Stephen King novel, the setup of Gerald’s Game is viciously simple. Jessie (Carla Gugino) and her husband Gerald (Bruce Greenwood) head up to a remote cabin to spice up their marriage with a little S&M. He handcuffs her to the bed, but before they can get going, he has a heart attack and dies. And thus the majority of the running time is devoted to Jessie’s attempts to break free.

Gugino is mostly on her own for about an hour and a half, but she does have some visitors, whether real, hallucinated, or remembered. A feral, hungry dog is a nuisance that pays no respect to the dead. Jessie’s internal back-and-forth monologue assessing her chances of escape is represented by the most oppressive version of Gerald convincing her she can’t do it and the most confident version of herself discovering that there might just be a way.

Occasionally Jessie falls asleep, revealing repressed memories of her father (Henry Thomas) sexually abusing her when she was a teenager, which turn out to be the key for how to save herself. This is fascinating, and filled with striking symbolic imagery, but it is also maddening, a classic example of King at his most on-the-nose. Furthermore, it begs the question: why does Gerald’s Game even need the backstory? The action could easily be contained to what is actually physically happening in the room. Although, to be fair, not everyone has the patience or the stomach to withstand this story without any breaks. Ultimately, there are two legitimate of presenting this premise, and considering the one not taken remains for now a fruitful “what if.”

At the end, there is a huge exposition dump that confirms the existence of another villain (Twin Peaks’ Carel Struycken) who easily could have (and probably should have) had his own movie. He is actually present throughout the film, but it sure does not feel that way once it is explained what his deal is. This conclusion comes out of nowhere and serves no narrative purpose other than allowing Jessie to stand up to one more roadblock. Still, despite this and other odd detours, Gerald’s Game is high-quality claustrophobic horror and a powerhouse showcase for Gugino.

Gerald’s Game is Recommended If You Like: Saw, You’re Next, The flashback scenes in Split

Grade: 3 out of 5 Slices of Kobe Beef

This Is a Movie Review: Ouija: Origin of Evil

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A bit of fanfare has been made director Mike Flanagan’s use of split diopter shots and insistence on inserting cigarette burns in the corner of the screen in Ouija: Origin of Evil. These techniques work with the retro vibe in this ’60s-set horror prequel, but this is more than just aesthetic fetishism. They speak to the great care given to constructing the whole film. You’ll see the denizens of the spirit world lurking around the corners, and occasionally bursting into the foreground, but only when you are damn well supposed to.

The fact that Ouija: Origin of Evil is so thorough might lead viewers to make some faulty conclusions and connections, which may just be intentional, and even if they are not, they are still disorienting in a way that great horror often is. One of the main girls is played by Annalise Basso, who was previously in the underrated Oculus, also directed by Flanagan. As Ouija becomes increasingly trippier, it almost feels like Basso is playing the same character she did in (the very trippy) Oculus. Of course, Origin of Evil is actually a prequel to another Ouija movie, but not very many people saw that and I imagine those who did promptly forgot about it.

Much of the success of Origin of Evil rests on the little shoulders of Lulu Wilson, who plays the younger and more possessed of the two main girls. She continues a long and vaunted tradition of creepy horror kids, establishing her own place in this hall of fame by adding hints of nonchalance and ace comic timing. There is one moment when she replaces the second half of an oft-repeated mantra with “blah blah blah,” which is liable to floor viewers with an unexpected chuckle. This film does not reinvent the supernatural genre, but it never lets you take it easy.

I give Ouija: Origin of Evil 8 Skeletons out of 10 Crawlspaces.