"That's odd. The blood usually gets off on the second floor."
Try as hard as I might that line from The Simpsons' Shining parody was always skittering around the edges of my brain while watching the 40-year-delayed sequel Doctor Sleep, until eventually, like that indefatigable blood itself, I couldn't hold it back any longer -- it came pouring out everywhere all over everything. So heavy is the weight of iconography attached to the Overlook and its dark descendants -- they cannot, they will not, be contained.
At times that spooky weight worked in Sleep's favor -- when we do finally make it back to the Hotel, as we must, you do feel the same passage of time that Adult Danny Torrance (Ewan McGregor) seems to -- we too now have creaks in our musty bones and crevasses around our exhausted eyes; the radiators are quaking and the little boys in chunky astronaut sweaters are no more on either side of the screen. It goosed its old riffs good. But more often than not I felt Doctor Sleep crumbled under the weight of its impossible expectations and the blood, loosed, drowned the poor dear.
It's not a bad film. (Rebecca Ferguson, that queen, certainly does her best.) But it actually doesn't even entirely feel like a "film" to me -- it feels more like a miniseries, something director Mike Flanagan has proven himself a sturdy captain of with his Haunting of Hill House series for Netflix, about to disclose its own second anthology. On Netflix Doctor Sleep could have been another hour or two longer and I would've gobbled it up with absent-minded and perfectly mild satisfaction on my face -- dull-eyed and entertained.
On the big screen though, as those familiar strings descend and the REDRUMS pile up and multiple actors are forced to do their best Jack Nicholson and Shelley Duvall impersonations, I don't know, I just kept being forced into the corner of thinking upon other people's really strange and daring creations. Flanagan is a good, solid filmmaker who in 2019 can't possibly live up to the shit Stanley Kubrick pulled with that 1980 film. It's a task for a crazy person; Mike Flanagan isn't that.
The film's better than it has any right being -- Flanagan's made a career out of that exact sentiment time and time again. There are scenes of genuine fucked-up-ness in Doctor Sleep that a totally by-the-numbers person wouldn't have accomplished. But there's nothing truly scarifying, and there's not much that I think will stand as its own legacy, un-borrowed from betters. Even the film's grossest practical effect is a thing Flanagan himself pulled with his last King adaptation Gerald's Game (which remains at this point the best thing he's done).
Doctor Sleep is an entertaining tribute to a monumental thing. It's a bowl of colorful fruits laid out in front of a forever monolith, one that reaches black to the stars and blots out so much that came after --the gods will not be angry for this sacrifice. But I'd rather we build our own gods, defiled and deranged and pink with present tense, to suit our modern purposes. The blood came and went awhile back; I long for some new flesh.