Cinematic Interviews

‘Doctor Sleep’ Trailer Breakdown + Q&A With Mike Flanagan

By Yolanda Machado

Horror fans rejoice! The widely anticipated “Doctor Sleep” just got it’s first trailer today, and it is everything you want and more.

The long awaited sequel to the classic Stanley Kubrick film, and Stephen King novel, “The Shining”, follows the story of Danny Torrance (Ewan MacGregor), forty years after the chilling and traumatic events that took place when he was a child at the Overlook Hotel. Danny shares many of his father’s traits, including alcoholism, which he is actively trying to battle as he continues to figure out how to deal with what he refers to as “the shining,” the power he’s had since childhood that allows him to see or hear things others can’t. He meets a young girl named Abra (newcomer Kyliegh Curran) who also has the gift, by communicating with her through a psychic link they share. Soon, they learn about The True Knot, a group of nomads led by Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) who violently steal the “steam” children with the shining posess, who are actively searching for Abra. Danny has to battle the terror of the True Knot while also battling the scars and demons of his own past.

At an event held in Los Angeles yesterday, a small group of press were invited to see an early viewing of the trailer followed by a Q&A session with director Mike Flanagan and producer Trevor Macy. Here’s what we learned about “Doctor Sleep”:

How Danny got the name “Doctor Sleep”

If you have yet to read the book itself, you might be wondering how the name Doctor Sleep relates to The Shining. “The title is referencing what Dan kind of becomes in his adulthood, especially in the later side of his recovery,” said Flanagan. “Danny, since the events at the Overlook has not used his shine. He’s tried to bury it because of the danger that he thinks it put him and his family in when he was a kid. He takes a job as an orderly at a hospice and he finally starts to use the shining just a little bit to try to comfort patients in the moments before they die. He’s able to understand that they’re about to die. He sits with them and kind of helps them move on. It’s actually a very lovely and very empathetic part of the book. Because of this, he’s developed a nickname and reputation around the hospice. The patients know that if he shows up in your room late at night and sitting by the bed, it’s because it’s over. It’s because it’s time to go to sleep. So they call him Doctor Sleep.”

How the name reflects back to Danny’s childhood

Perhaps the little detail you missed is how Danny’s adult nickname is a callback to his nickname during his time at the Overlook.  “What I thought was pretty great about [his name] when I read the book was his nickname as a child was ‘Doc.’ That was all from Bugs Bunny cartoons in “The Shining.” I love that King was kind of able to make it so that the abbreviation that the patients would deal with him from under was still Doc. He kind of gave him a whole new context to that nickname. I thought that was a really interesting way of recontextualizing how he was referred to as a kid.”

Is this a sequel to Stanley Kubrick’s film, “The Shining” or more true to Stephen King’s follow up which completely dismisses all of the things Kubrick changed?

“It’s the most common question we’ve had since the project was announced,” relayed Flanagan. “The question we couldn’t really answer until we had material to present because the answer is really complicated. The answer to all of those questions for us has always been yes, it is an adaptation of the novel Doctor Sleep, 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. Reconciling those three at times very different sources has been kind of the most challenging and thrilling part of this creatively for us. The movie’s kind of its own thing and has been embraced by the Kubrick estate and by King, as well. But in a very real sense we’re standing on the shoulders of literary and cinematic giants, which has been, you know, no pressure whatsoever.”

There’s some call backs to the Kubrick film in the trailer, some look so eerily similar, and it turns out only one actually IS the exact shot from the film.

“What you see [in the trailer] is the kind of the more iconic imagery that isn’t taken from the Kubrick film” said Flanagan. “There’s only one shot in the trailer you saw, that is actually his footage and it’s the shot of the bloody elevators. Everything else is us. Everything else is our re-creation. I don’t want to spoil to what extent, outside of what you’ve already gotten to see, what we’ve kind of been able to revisit from Kubrick’s world. But I can say that in every thing that we decided to use, our attention was always to detail and reverence and making sure that we were doing it properly, with the hope that even kind of the most rabid cinephiles might not be able to tell the difference with some of our frames and some of his. We were able to do that with the full support of the Kubrick estate.”

On casting Ewan MacGregor as Danny Torrance

“I think just as a movie fan Ewan brings with him decades of goodwill,” stated Flanagan. “For me as a viewer, I instinctively like and trust Ewan, which is so important I think with Dan, particularly, because we meet him when he’s so low that that could be alienating for viewers. You really need an actor like Ewan who can kind of wear his humanity on his sleeve. He also, as a bonus, turned out to be one of the nicest, kindest, and most humble men that you can imagine. Especially someone who’s, you know, cut off all the limbs of Darth Vader and has, has had this kind of incredible pedigree of, of, of iconic roles. he’s really incredibly down to earth and just a lovely person to have on set. It also, it doesn’t hurt that he’s a huge fan of The Shining.”

…and on discovering newcomer Kyleigh Curran as co-star Abra

“We looked at 900 girls to play Abra. Kyleigh, this her first movie. She was 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 and it’s this kid who’s never really done anything, who turns in the tape, who just rises all the way up to the top of the pile. I think it’s really exciting for us because we got to kind of see the birth of a movie star in her. She’s a force of nature. She’s so, so fantastic in this film.  I remember we were in prep, we had Ewan come down to read with our top candidates. A lot of them had done lots and lots of films. Some of them had even done films with us before that we were really pulling for. Kyliegh came in and it was one of those things that was so clear, so fast and it was such a shock for someone who had so little experience to be able to do that. When she left the room we were all kind of shell shocked by it and Ewan said, ‘It’s clearly her, isn’t it?’”

Reflecting on what The Shining means to Flanagan and how it reflects in Doctor Sleep

“I look at The Shining, the novel, which to me has always been the novel written by a man in the throws of addiction,” says Flanagan, “just meditating on the damage he thinks it could do to his family. Then I look at Doctor Sleep and, in the same way that The Shining is about addiction, Doctor Sleep is for recovery.  I look at an author who is now decades sober, looking back at what his life was like when he wrote that book, thinking about what his family could have have gone through. Doctor Sleep, to me, is so much of this redemption that I think King was trying to articulate that he’d accomplished. Those themes I think are complimentary between the two sources or some of the most effecting an important ones for me.”

Watch the trailer here:

“Doctor Sleep” opens in theaters November 8th

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