STACK speaks with director Mike Flanagan about crafting the sequel to Stephen King’s mighty horror classic, The Shining.
Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film, The Shining – famously starring an unhinged Jack Nicholson – would become a horror classic.
However, adapted from Stephen King’s novel of the same name, the author actively disapproved of the casting and script, going on to champion a 1997 TV mini-series he felt better reflected his story.
In Kubrick’s version Nicholson portrayed an alcoholic writer who, together with his wife (Shelley Duvall) and young son Danny, become the winter caretakers of an isolated hotel. Danny, we discover, has a telepathic gift known as “the shining” which allows him to see disturbing images of the hotel’s past.
Fast forward 40 years and young Danny is all grown-up, struggling with the same alcoholism that plagued his father in King’s sequel, Doctor Sleep.
Adapted for the big screen by director Mike Flanagan, Ewan McGregor stars as Danny alongside Rebecca Ferguson, Cliff Curtis and newcomer Kyleigh Curran.
The book/film takes its title from the place Danny finds himself today: a recovering alcoholic who has been too afraid to use his gift since the events of The Shining, he takes a job at a hospice, using his “shining” to comfort patients in the moments before they die.
“The events that took place at The Overlook Hotel scarred him completely,” Flanagan explains when STACK meets him in Hollywood. “He is also prone to the same alcoholism and temper that his father had, and the novel picks him up at rock bottom; in the throes of trying to overcome that addiction and then carrying him through recovery.
“I think in a lot of ways The Shining is about alcoholism. And Doctor Sleep is actually about recovery. They go together pretty well that way.”
Doctor Sleep finds Danny with renewed purpose after meeting a young girl with similar powers; protecting her from a cult known as The True Knot, who feed off the “shine” of innocents in their quest for immortality.
Given King’s very public disdain for Kubrick’s The Shining, Flanagan trod lightly. “There was a lot of trial and error when it came to trying to crack the adaptation. I went back to the book first but the big conversation we had to have with Stephen King was whether or not we could still do a faithful adaptation of the novel as King had laid it out, while inhabiting the universe that Kubrick had created.
“And if that conversation hadn’t gone the way it went, we wouldn’t have done the film. Stephen King’s opinions about the Kubrick adaptation are famous and complicated. Complicated to the point that if you’ve read Doctor Sleep, you know that he actively and intentionally ignored everything that Kubrick had changed about his novel,” says Flanagan, who describes himself as a fan of King and an apostle of The Shining. “We really needed to bring those worlds back together again so we went to King and explained how.”
Flanagan – whose previous horror flicks include Oculus and another Stephen King adaptation, Gerald’s Game – can only hope the author approves.
Casting McGregor after an exhaustive search, he says, “As a viewer, I instinctively like and trust Ewan, which is important with Dan, particularly because we meet him when he’s so low and that could be alienating for viewers. So you really need an actor like Ewan who wears his humanity on his sleeve. As a bonus, he turned out to be one of the nicest, most humble men you can imagine on a set. Especially for someone who’s basically cut off all the limbs of Darth Vader and has this incredible pedigree of iconic roles.”
Pivotal to the film’s success was casting the right girl to play Abra, and Flanagan saw almost a thousand girls before rookie Curran sent in a self-tape.
“It’s that story you always hear in Hollywood that you never really believe. Of all these very experienced actors coming out for a part, it’s this kid who’s never really done anything who turns in the tape and just rises all the way up to the top of the pile. It’s really exciting for us because we got to see the birth of a movie star. She’s a force of nature.”
Doctor Sleep is due in cinemas on November 7.