This review is of the edited TV-14 version of the film. All thoughts below should be addressed as such as a review of the unedited version would be more negative
While an improvement over the first film in the series, Doctor Sleep is still not a film that you’re really going to give much of a thumbs up to. It has some good ideas but really ends up wasting them and goes for way more grit than is needed. You will be engaged during any scene where the villains aren’t around but once they show up it becomes game over.
The story starts with a girl named Andi using her mental abilities to scar an evil predator when she is approached by another psychic named Rose. Unfortunately Rose is much more powerful and quickly subdues Andy and takes her to their cult. There she is brainwashed and forced to work for the villain group while also getting a big power up. See the villains have two goals. The first is to live and to do so they have to absorb the shine from people who have powers.
Effectively it’s like a person’s life force and only those with super powers have this. Then the other goal is to keep their ranks strong by turning others over to their faction. They have to keep a balance where the group isn’t too big and they also have enough prey left to absorb. It’s hard to say quite how many shiners there are in the world but if the villains are too successful they may start to run out of people to absorb and die anyway. After taking out a kid, the villain group sets their eyes in the main heroine Abra as they noticed her watching telepathically.
That takes us to the main character Dan. He has really been trying to keep a low profile after surviving the original events of the Shining and just wants a peaceful life. So even when Abra shows up and explains that there is a dangerous group out there, Dan refuses to help and goes back to hiding. Fortunately he is convinced to help by the ghost of his old mentor. This won’t be easy since he’s up against a complete group of fighters but Abra is tough in her own right so perhaps that will balance things out.
I was not a big fan of Dan though. The fact that he was so quickly going to abandon Abra was unfortunate. Sure he’s scared and all but when you know that a kid’s in trouble you’d think that you would try to help some more. At least teach her how to fight a bit or something. Instead he has to be guilt tripped into helping. He also doesn’t do very well with the willpower by the end of the film as the villains were just too much for him. Considering how much experience Dan has, I would have liked him to have been a bit more powerful here. Maybe walk into the room with a confident grin or something like that as he takes the villains down one at a time.
It would have been more satisfying than his having to be running all the time. At least at the end of the day he still does help out even if it was reluctantly at first. Abra’s a much more interesting character and it’s rare to have the heroes be more powerful than the villains. From the start we see that Abra is a lot more powerful than any of the villains. The only way they can keep up is to amplify their abilities with the magic drugs and even then they don’t last long.
Abra is a good guy so she doesn’t just go around murdering them but otherwise she may have been able to stop them in their tracks. She pull’s a good trick on Rose at one point where she lures her into the mind realm so Abra could then go into Rose’s mind and find out their plans. Rose is a fairly young kid but she has certainly learned how to do some creative things with her powers and illusion abilities.
If there were more films in the series I feel like there might be some foreshadowing for her going to the dark side soon though. She actively tells the villains that she hopes their death were painful several times and really relishes in her victories. Of course a large part of this is because she completely despises the villains for what they did to the kid at the start of the film so she wants them all to pay. Give her another year or two of training and she should really be completely unbeatable.
While the film has some action and they get to use their magical abilities, the film never quite goes into action territory. It’s unfortunate because I think this would have lent itself well to that kind of premise. The powers are easily weaponizable and then the villain group could have all gotten to have some fights with the heroes. Instead the only action scenes we get are very down ot Earth like fighting with a knife or something like that.
The battle with Dan and Rose is very anticlimactic for example. He played the matchup quite poorly and the scene of him getting drained just drags on for a long while. You know what they are building up to with Dan’s trump card but even that scene didn’t look quite as impressive as it should have.
Also, I was waiting for him to try the coffin technique on one of the villains. I figured this was foreshadowed with how close he was to using it on his old friend. If it only works on you once you’re dead then that’s a fair counterpoint to why he didn’t even try to use it but then he certainly needs more abilities at some point. Dan does well with crashing a car at one point though.
It’s nostalgic seeing the old mansion later on. While the Shining was pretty bad, the actual mansion was fun. I don’t think the house itself lives up to the hype at all though. For the most part all of the tricks are completely ineffective. In the end Dan really has to take things into his own hands because the house just wasn’t working. For instance there’s one scene where the river of blood shows up and the villain just smirks. The house is clearly not a threat to her at all and while I guess that almost feels like a twist I guess, you may as well have not had the mansion at all. You could almost call the mansion itself filler.
As mentioned earlier, any scene with the villains is awful though. They’re shown to be as demented as possible with their various ceremonies as they murder and brainwash everyone. The way they murder the child is particularly brutal as they mention the death has to be as painful as possible to absorb more shine. It’s definitely the kind of plot details that we did not need. I was not surprised that the kid dies since it seems like something this film would pull off but they went out of their way to make it as bad as possible.
Any scene with the villains trying to absorb the shine always drags on and on. The villains are not even remotely interesting and you just want them off the screen. Unfortunately for Abra she has to feel all of the pain as well thanks to her full synchro ability which is always something that you absolutely do not want to have. It ends up backfiring almost all the time.
Even from the start with Andi we quickly learn that her backstory is super grim dark. Even the scene of her taking down that one chump at the beginning can’t just be that she’s taking out a bad guy but we have to learn what kind. In general this is the kind of thing that can really hurt horror films in general. The more extra details you give to every scene, the more likely it is that you’re going to focus too much on the shock value and not get to the actual plot in time. This film certainly shows us that the world in which the Shiners live is a really depressing one and that just makes the film more depressing as well.
As Abra is the only really solid character here, I wouldn’t say that the writing or cast is all that good either. The film isn’t super violent all of the time at least but the kid scene certainly filled up the quota there. If the villains could have at least have had some semblance of a more interesting goal or character development then maybe things could have been different. As it stands, they really do their best to crush the film.
Overall, Doctor Sleep is a sequel that takes the series in a very different direction but still ends up failing. In a way that’s impressive. It beats the Shining as this film would at least have its interesting moments. If you cut the scenes with the Baseball kid out then that would help quite a bit. The score still wouldn’t be quite positive but it would win a few points. You just won’t have any fun in this film by the end of its run and for that reason you’ll want to give this one a big pass. If you want to watch a film involving super powers then it’s time to watch one of the Bleach films instead