“Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep” continues the story of Danny Torrance, 40 years after his terrifying stay at the Overlook Hotel in The Shining. Ewan McGregor, Rebecca Ferguson and newcomer Kyliegh Curran star in this fall’s major horror event, directed by Mike Flanagan, from his own screenplay based upon the novel by Stephen King.
Still irrevocably scarred by the trauma he endured as a child at the Overlook, Dan Torrance has fought to find some semblance of peace. But that peace is shattered when he encounters Abra, a courageous teenager with her own powerful extrasensory gift, known as the “shine.” Instinctively recognising that Dan shares her power, Abra has sought him out, desperate for his help against the merciless Rose the Hat and her followers, the True Knot, who feed off the shine of innocents in their quest for immortality.
Forming an unlikely alliance, Dan and Abra engage in a brutal life-or-death battle with Rose. Abra’s innocence and fearless embrace of her shine compel Dan to call upon his own powers as never before—daring to go back and face his fears, while reawakening the ghosts of the past.
Flanagan, who also edited the film, included in his behind-the-scenes creative team director of photography Michael Fimognari (“The Haunting of Hill House”), production designer Maher Ahmad (“Get Hard”) and costume designer Terry Anderson (“Den of Thieves”). The music score is composed by The Newton Brothers (“The Haunting of Hill House”).
Rarely has a tale of family dysfunction entered the modern consciousness as shockingly or as completely as that of the Torrances, the father, mother and son at the center of Stephen King’s third novel, The Shining. Originally published in 1977, the book went on to sell more than a million copies. Inspired by the author’s personal struggles, along with a fateful night King spent in room 217 of the Stanley Hotel in Colorado, the story of Jack, Wendy and Danny Torrance is one of King’s most personal works—terrifying not because of the monsters that live alongside us, but for the real-life demons that dwell within all of us.
Thirty-six years later, King published his follow-up novel, Doctor Sleep, the continuation of the story of Dan Torrance. Although both are studies in horror and suspense, The Shining takes readers on a journey through the darkness of addiction, while Doctor Sleep brings them back to the light through recovery, self-sacrifice and redemption.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 cinematic adaptation of The Shining is widely regarded as one of the greatest horror films of all time. It is also one of the more infamous cases of the gulf between an author’s words and a filmmaker’s vision, with Kubrick’s film taking creative license with various elements of the story, including the fate of the Overlook Hotel, along with aspects of the character Jack Torrance. However, the reality is that both King’s and Kubrick’s versions of Jack’s ultimate loss of self and sanity to addiction have solidified both men’s places as creative geniuses.
Filmmaker Mike Flanagan has been a self-proclaimed fan(atic) of King’s work since fifth grade, when he picked up his first book by the author. Flanagan says, “I was way too young, but boy did I start reading them. Those books frightened me like I’ve never been scared before and completely changed the way that I look at the world. That started this experience that I’ve had with so much of King’s writing: as a very scared kid, reading his work taught me how to be brave in short bursts. It became an exercise in character. I became a constant reader and struggled my way, somehow, into a career where people pay me to make movies, which is still crazy to me.”
The filmmaker also remembers, years later, being at the bookstore to get his copy of Doctor Sleep the first day that the novel was available: “To pick up the story specifically from King’s point-of-view and jettison what Kubrick had changed in the movie about the Torrance family history…it was a fascinating tug-of-war as a reader. What Kubrick did with the material has become so iconic—so burrowed into pop culture and my mind as a cinephile—and to read this story that actively ignored that and took you in a whole other direction was exciting.
“Doctor Sleep brought back a lot of the themes from the novel of The Shining that didn’t make it into the film,” Flanagan continues, “specifically the focus on addiction to the degree that King took it, along with the notes of redemption. My initial impression was, ‘I love this story.’ I loved the three characters, Dan, Abra and Rose the Hat. I loved the contradictions between The Shining and Doctor Sleep: addiction and recovery; encroaching ice and fire. He took so many wonderful elements from the first book and let them grow into something entirely new.
“There’s a part of me that insists that King’s work be adapted in a faithful way,” Flanagan emphasises, “and a part that idolises the Kubrick film. Those two sides of me were at war when I began this project. But trying to satisfy both of them, I figured if I could do it for myself, then I could hopefully do it for audiences.”
Reconciling such disparate sources was about “learning how to walk the tightrope between Kubrick and King. To honour both, and create a stand-alone film, was the priority from the start,” he adds.
Flanagan knew that there was one vital step imperative to the livelihood of the project, the go-ahead that mattered most: Stephen King. The horror master was initially skeptical. But once the filmmaker was able to fully present his audacious take on the project, blending the published word with the cinematic legacy—in essence, giving King the resolution he felt was missing from Kubrick’s vision—the author enthusiastically signed on.
Stephen King says, “I always tell people the difference between Stanley Kubrick’s movie and my book is his movie ended in ice and my book ended in fire. But, by taking Dan Torrance’s story as a grown-up and filtering it through his own, apparently large heart, Mike has been able to take the Kubrick movie a step further, so that it warms things up. Mike’s film does two things. It is a fine adaptation of Doctor Sleep, but it is also a terrific sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s movie ‘The Shining.’ Mike has worked in a universe where some of the things that happened in ‘The Shining’ movie didn’t happen in my book…and has somehow been able to make it work.”
Without question, Danny Torrance is a character both moviegoers and readers have cared about. He is subjected to unspeakable trauma as a child, nearly all of it at the hands of his father, Jack. To shut down his pain, he follows in the same toxic and alcoholic tendencies as Jack Torrance, nearly destroying himself just to get the memories and his shine to stop. After hitting rock bottom with a resounding thud, he runs as far as he can with the money remaining in his pocket. Then, in Frazier, New Hampshire, his real journey begins.