Halloween is a time for fun tricks, tasty treats and good scares. New movie releases like Smile, Terrifier 2 and even Halloween Ends have been carrying that banner throughout the month of October, allowing the horror genre to post some pretty fantastic numbers.
Plenty has been said about those films, but today I’d like to celebrate a movie that should be on everyone’s Halloween list for this and every year: Mike Flanagan’s Stephen King adaptation Doctor Sleep. It’s a movie that attempted the impossible: to tie together the legacy of Stanley Kubrick’s film of The Shining with a further text in the King legacy.
The fact that the finished product even exists is a miracle in its own right. The results that came out of this audacious project, however, are even more beautiful. In the spirit of Halloween, and good stories in general, let’s talk about why Doctor Sleep deserves much more love than it’s gotten in the past.
Doctor Sleep Debuted As A Box Office Bomb In Theaters
Bringing a Mike Flanagan movie to people’s attention isn’t exactly earth-shattering at this point. The world of film and TV have seen the man make a brand for himself through works such as Oculus, Gerald’s Game and, of course, The Haunting of Hill House. So why does Doctor Sleep, another Stephen King adaptation from Flanagan’s own hand, require special attention? Because it got buried at the box office upon its 2019 release.
Somehow, with all of the proper ingredients in play, a story continuing The Shining’s story crashed and burned against Terminator: Dark Fate and that weekend's champion Midway. No one knows why exactly this happened. All that can be said is that the dismal showing Doctor Sleep encountered in theaters shows that the movie didn’t exactly stand out upon initial release, with even King himself wanting it to rise above its misfortunes.
Fans Of Either Version Of The Shining Should Enjoy This Legacyquel
One potential cause that may have tarnished the shine of this Ewan McGregor-starring legacy-quel is the fact that, to this very day, Stephen King’s feelings on The Shining are complicated. The author has at times both denounced and calmly accepted what Stanley Kubrick had changed in his variation on the movie. Making a sequel to that sort of movie is enough to potentially drive true fans away from the jump.
And yet, Doctor Sleep became a movie that did what seemed highly unlikely: it bridged the gap between Kubrick’s original film and King’s writing/tone. Where The Shining’s film could be seen as cold and brutal, Mike Flanagan’s follow-up is much more integrated with emotions and empathy.
Danny Torrance and his journey to mentor Abra Stone (Kyliegh Curran) while fending off Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) isn’t merely some haunted house adventure. There’s a lot more meat on the bones this round, and everyone is invited to the feast; especially when it comes to the show-stopping ending.
Mike Flanagan’s Director’s Cut Is Even More Enchanting For Return Viewers
If you haven’t seen Doctor Sleep yet, then you’ve probably read enough to be brought to the table. However, if you’ve already seen this movie and loved it, there’s another window of enjoyment for return viewers.
Having loved Mike Flanagan’s engrossing journey into the world of The Shine upon first release, I finally took it upon myself to watch the Director’s Cut a couple of weeks ago. I thought I loved this movie before, but I found it even more entrancing with the increased runtime.
About half an hour is added into Doctor Sleep’s Director’s Cut, which works just as well as Colin Trevorrow’s preferred cut of Jurassic World Dominion. With more minor reflections on Danny’s trauma surrounding those events at The Overlook Hotel, as well as some added backstory for Abra’s abilities, the world of this story is even more engrossing. Clocking in at just three hours, Doctor Sleep is more satisfying with the added material that's reinstated.
Doctor Sleep Is The Perfect Gateway Into The Flanaverse
Here’s a hypothetical situation: say you’re a viewer who isn’t familiar with Mike Flanagan’s work and you want to know how to start making your way into that world. The eternal question arises: where do I begin? Based on the subject matter, as well as the craft on display in Doctor Sleep, this Stephen King adapted sequel is the perfect gateway for those who want to enter what's now been branded "The Flanaverse."
Through the development of his career, Flanagan seems to have moved from straight-up film narratives into more extended series projects. That’s not to say Doctor Sleep’s writer/director would never return to films, but rather that this movie (especially the Director’s Cut) seemed like a signal that he was moving in the direction of extended narratives.
If you want a taste of the Flanaverse, Doctor Sleep is a proper test case for evaluating whether you should start with Mike Flanagan’s movies or TV shows when wading in. With something as familiar as The Shining as its backdrop, a wider audience can use this story as a barometer of where to head next.
Renewed Fan Interest Could Help Revive Two Promising Mike Flanagan Projects
There are two greater heartbreaks that arose in the wake of Doctor Sleep’s box office failure. While not totally linked to that unfortunate incident, Mike Flanagan’s expensive-sounding Revival adaptation became inactive because of the very reason you’d expect. If you thought that stung, prepare for the cruelest cut of all, as Flanagan revealed that his Shining prequel was also cancelled.
Delving into the past of Danny Torrance’s mentor/Overlook Hotel employee Dick Halloran (Carl Lumbly), the Director’s Cut of Doctor Sleep hinted at some of the story Flanagan wanted to tell in the aptly-titled Halloran. Alas, this project’s death was directly connected to Doctor Sleep’s misfortunes.
With both The Shining and Revival’s rights currently looking like they’re locked up at Warner Bros., now would be the time for a miracle. Should Doctor Sleep find itself surfing a new tide of popularity, the studio brass could find themselves interested in cashing in on that sort of anticipation. Or, even better, interested parties like Netflix could make successful bids to grab both properties, should Warner Bros. not want to undertake that task itself.
Halloween is a season where the dead and the living can connect once again, even if it’s for a fleeting moment. Though it’s been almost three years since Mike Flanagan’s vision in Doctor Sleep made an unsuccessful bid for wider notoriety, there’s a strong current of goodwill among horror fans that could unlock big things, if properly tapped into. Just like Danny Torrance encouraged Abra Stone to Shine, I’d like to encourage you all to revisit the Overlook Hotel and bring Doctor Sleep back into the light.
It’s pretty easy to access Doctor Sleep, as well as Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, if you’re in a household that loves streaming. Those of you with an HBO Max subscription will be able to make it a double feature, as The Shining and the theatrical cut of Mike Flanagan’s follow-up are both available at the time of publication.
Unfortunately, rentals or purchases are your only option for the Director’s Cut, but it’s well worth the effort to track down the version that turned a great film into something even better. Happy Halloween, and please Shine responsibly.
CinemaBlend's James Bond (expert). Also versed in Large Scale Aggressors, time travel, and Guillermo del Toro. He fights for The User.