Doctor Sleep matters because The Shining matters. Whether you love the original Stephen King novel or the Stanley Kubrick film adaptation (Or both! It’s possible!), the story of the cursed Overlook Hotel looms large in our collective imaginations. When Doctor Sleep was published in 2013, it immediately leapt onto Hollywood’s radar. After all, it was a sequel to The Shining, following a grown-up Dan Torrance as he tackles a new set of demons (and a few older ones). Now, six years later, the film adaptation from Gerald’s Game and The Haunting of Hill House director Mike Flanagan is months away from opening.

I visited the set of Doctor Sleep late last year and gathered with other journalists in the evil Room 237 itself to ask Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy about the film’s journey to the big screen. Here’s what we learned.

To hear Macy describe it, him and Flanagan landing Doctor Sleep was simply a matter of the stars aligning correctly:

In 2013, Stephen King decided to continue the story of Danny Torrance as an adult. The novel had been of interest to Mike [Flanagan] and to me ever since that happened. I remember talking about it at the time and we thought like, “Wow, a fun thing to do”. But how intimidating. And you know, cut to a few years later when we were fortunate enough to cross paths with Warner Brothers and they had the rights because of The Shining and, you know, so we get to tell this story of Danny Torrance all grown up.

Of course, there’s a bit more to it than that. Macy elaborated, explaining that Flanagan met with Warner Bros., learned that Doctor Sleep was on the table, and immediately prepared a pitch:

We went to them. The actual story is Mike had a general meeting on that, that I wasn’t there for, with a guy named Jon Berg, who was an executive who did mostly DC things except he was super-passionate about Doctor Sleep as a project. So that was one of his only non-DC projects. We knew this, so Mike mentioned it. Mike and I came back, gave him a whole pitch and he hired us. Jon is now a producer on this with me. So that worked out pretty well.

As for the adaptation process, Macy found the novel the inherently cinematic and begging to be transformed for the big screen:

There are things that jump out from the book, and they made it into the script, and they made it into the movie. A few of them, like, you know, the flashbacks to some of Danny’s childhood, seem very cinematic in the book. Snakebite Andy and joining the True Knot is an extremely cinematic sequence as it’s written in the book. The mano-a-mano between Rose and Abra in the book feels very, very cinematic. And those things all kind of jumped out. But the whole thing feels like it wants to be a movie a lot. A lot of King’s stuff is like that. But this in particular, I mean, you really want to see these characters on screen.

For Mike Flanagan, who has carved out a niche as one of the finest horror directors working today, Doctor Sleep felt personal. Both King’s novel and Kubrick’s film impacted him at a young age and he saw this film as an attempt to reconcile them, to tie the original movie’s nihilistic chilliness to King’s warmth and sense of hope:

I saw The Shining in eighth grade. I watched it on VHS at a sleepover and was petrified, totally petrified. And I didn’t really start to digest the movie properly and understand it from a filmmaking perspective until I got older. But it pretty much defined what it meant to be scared of a movie for me. And a lot of the images and just that mood…The thing I loved about The Shining is, and I would say it to some of the crew when we were working, tell me your favorite jump scare in The Shining. It is all atmosphere. And just this oppressive tension in that burned into me in a profound way. I mean, I’ve always found that to be the most effective way to scare someone. I hate jump scares. I really hate them. I think there’s nothing special about being able to startle someone – that’s an involuntary reflex, and it makes people laugh. And that movie to me proved that it’s not necessary and they can even work against the impact of the film. I read the book in high school as I was starting to kind of burn my way through the King library. And what stunned me about the book was that everything I thought I believed about Jack Torrance, in particular from the film, was wrong. You know, the book has this humanism to it and redemption and sacrifice on his part that the movie jettisons completely. And they both work for what they’re doing. But that kind of showed me this other side of the story that also really resonated with me.

Despite the direct connections and shared characters, Doctor Sleep couldn’t be more different than The Shining. The Shining is about a man struggling with his addictions and failing, destroying his family. Doctor Sleep is about a man struggling with his addictions and his battle to build a future for himself and those he loves. Flanagan spoke to this and about his initial hesitation about Doctor Sleep even existing in the first place:

So when they announced that he was writing a sequel to it, I was initially incredibly excited. And then really nervous because I had this feeling I think a lot of people have, which is, don’t mess with The Shining. The Shining’s done and perfect and both of its iterations don’t [inaudible]. And so I grabbed the book the day it was published, grabbed the hard cover, and wolfed it down in 48 hours. AndI loved it. What I love the most about it was that…the difference in King as a storyteller, from when he wrote The Shining, aware of his own alcoholism, and writing that as an expression of a fear of what that could do to his own family as he’s gotten older, and was sober. You know, looking at The Shining, being about addiction and Doctor Sleep being about recovery, and that to me felt so perfect. And that was a journey that Jack as a character could not take. And so it was up to Dan to pick that mantle up and succeed where his father failed. And I looked at it as this, this other side of The Shining, this other side of the coin, where addiction versus recovery, fire versus ice, and if The Shining is in the snow and in the ice and frozen, you know, Doctor Sleep is burning, and the contradictions of it and how they work together, really I thought was just magnificent.

Doctor Sleep hits theaters on November 8, 2019.

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