Even though I’m the biggest Stephen King fan around these here parts, and a Mike Flanagan fan to boot, I’ve been highly skeptical of Doctor Sleep – Flanagan’s new film adaptation of King’s own sequel to The Shining. I found the book a bit disappointing, and wasn’t even sure how Flanagan could adapt it to the screen – since the version of The Shining most people are familiar with is Stanley Kubrick’s film, which deviates heavily from the source material.
So it is with great relief that I can report the newly released trailer for Doctor Sleep has completely won me over. This looks great. Flanagan is combining both King’s novel with elements of Kubrick’s film, and it appears he’s created a must-see in the process. Below, I’ll extract some of the film’s secrets with a Doctor Sleep trailer breakdown. I promise I’ll keep this as spoiler-free as possible.
The Doctor Sleep trailer doesn’t tip its hand right away. There’s nothing here to indicate what the movie is, or that it has anything to do with The Shining. And yet…there’s a subtle hint, if you’re really looking. First we see a childish HELLO scrawled on a wall. Cut to Ewan McGregor, sporting a painfully fake beard (my only real qualm with this trailer), gazing at the message. Herein lies the hint: the shot of McGregor’s character sitting on the bed is a one-point perspective shot. Stanley Kubrick was famous for using these symmetrical shots, and several of them appear in The Shining. It’s a nice little wink to the audience, teasing what’s to come.
McGregor, sans fake beard, continues getting messages. He even writes one back. All is well, all is playful. What a pleasant movie this must be! But then…McGregor’s sleep is interrupted when his wall explodes.
At last, the Doctor Sleep trailer lets us in on its secret. The explosion on McGregor’s wall has formed a new word, glimpsed in the mirror: REDRUM. This is, of course, MURDER spelled backwards. It’s also one of the most iconic images from The Shining. I’d go so far as to say that even if you haven’t seen The Shining, you likely know that REDRUM is originally from that film (and book).
The trailer cuts to someone else now – a young girl. This is Abra Stone, played by Kyliegh Curran. She’s jolted awake the same time McGregor’s character is. Is she the one sending him those wall messages? What could their connection be?
“Just talk to the kid,” we hear McGregor say, and sure enough, he’s next seen sitting on a bench with Abra. “You’re magic, like me,” she says, and McGregor thinks long and hard about this.
“I need you to listen to me,” McGregor says in voice over. “The world’s a hungry place…a dark place.” While this narration unfolds, we catch a glimpse of ominous figures standing on a beach, an RV parked behind them. This group is known as the True Knot. Think of them as psychic vampires – they roam the countryside in that RV, feeding on the pain of children with psychic abilities. We see some of that feeding here, as a woman in a hat leans over a girl. The woman is Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), the True Knot’s leader, and the main villain of the story.
“I only met two or three people like us,” McGregor says. “They died…” Again, we see more demonstrations of the True Knot and their feeding habits. Ferguson amps up the creepiness, giving a threatening “Hi there!” to a little girl – played by Violet McGraw, who starred as the younger version of Nell in Mike Flanagan’s Haunting of Hill House adaptation.
In case you haven’t figured it out yet, the trailer shows its cards in full here. “When I was a kid,” McGregor says. “I bumped into these…things…” As he’s talking, we catch a very, very familiar image of a boy on a big wheel, riding down a hall with a famous carpet. It’s Danny Torrance from The Shining – and McGregor is playing the grown-up version of Danny. If you’re not paying close attention here, you might assume Flanagan is just recycling a shot from Kubrick’s film. But that’s not the case – the filmmaker has painstakingly recreated imagery from The Shining. The effect is impressive. Flanagan doesn’t just nail the visual elements, he also manages to recreate Kubrick’s aesthetic – no easy feat.
In the flashback, Danny stares at the infamous Room 237 – where the ghost woman in the bathtub awaits. If the imagery alone wasn’t a big enough tip-off that Flanagan was going to be drawing on Kubrick’s film, this should seal the deal. In King’s Shining novel, the haunted room that Danny ventures into is 217. It was changed to 237 for Kubrick’s film at the request of the owners of the real hotel Kubrick and company shot some exteriors at – The Timberline Lodge.
“I don’t know about magic,” Danny says to Abra. “I always called it…the shining.” I truly appreciate the slow build-up in this trailer – the way that it waits until finally confirming that yes, this really is a sequel to The Shining.
Smash-cut to the famous bloody elevators. This is the one original Shining moment that wasn’t recreated by Flanagan. “What you’ve seen today, in kind of the more iconic imagery that’s been on the screen, that isn’t taken from the Kubrick film,” Flanagan said the other day at an event for the trailer. “There’s only one shot in the trailer that’s actually his footage and it’s the shot of the bloody elevators. Everything else is us. Everything else is our recreation.”
Yet another one-point perspective shot – Abra, seemingly floating down an aisle at a supermarket.
From here on out, the trailer falls into traditional shot-montage mode – we catch intriguing glimpses of a few things here and there. The most eye-catching is Flanagan’s recreation of the creepy Grady twins in the hallway of the Overlook.
We also see Abra using her shining on a stunned-looking man. This is a much different-looking use of the power than we saw Danny use in The Shining, suggesting Abra’s powers aren’t exactly the same.
Rose the Hat, her eyes glowing, freaking the fuck out. I love the lighting here – kudos to cinematographer Michael Fimognari, who is tasked with not just recreating Kubrick but also giving the film a visual identity all its own.
Sitting in his room, Danny is suddenly hurled towards the wall as the room tilts at a 90 degree angle. This (somehow) results in Danny ending up back in the Overlook Hotel. But it’s a dirtier, creepier Overlook than the one he visited as a child. This, again, is an indication that Flanagan isn’t sticking close to King’s novels. In The Shining novel, the Overlook Hotel explodes during the climax. Kubrick’s film leaves it standing. “Yes, it is an adaptation of the novel Doctor Sleep,” Flanagan said, “which is Stephen King’s sequel to his novel, The Shining. But this also exists very much in the same cinematic universe that Kubrick established in his adaptation of The Shining. And reconciling those three, at times very different, sources has been kind of the most challenging and thrilling part of this creatively for us.”
Here, Danny wanders towards a familiar door – the door he wrote REDRUM on as a child. The door his father Jack smashed his way through with an axe. The axe-hole that Jack poked his head through to say “Here’s Johnny!” is still there, and sure enough…
…Danny finds himself peering through that very same hole, visually linked to his dead father.
My favorite touch in the whole trailer comes at the very end, as the title card comes up, and we hear the ominous opening credits music from The Shining, composed by Wendy Carlos and Rachel Elkind. I am truly impressed with what is on display here – Flanagan looks to have created a potentially great new horror film that pays homage to both King and Kubrick. And I can’t wait to see it.
Doctor Sleep opens November 8.
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