Can Mike Flanagan’s ‘Doctor Sleep’ Meet the Standards of Stephen King and Legacy of Stanley Kubrick?

Stephen King is once again Hollywood’s poster-writer, with many of his works in various stages of movie development (Pet Sematary, Cujo, or The Talisman to name a few). Recently, we’ve seen numerous directors and actors jump at the opportunity to catch a ride on the King train (for the big and small screen alike) and they were right to do so.

Bill Skarsgård offered jaw-dropping performances in both the terrific King remake (IT) and the compelling new TV show, Castle Rock. The Elba-McConaughey duo in the Dark Tower series represented a solid piece of acting, while director Josh Boon (known for The Fault in Our Stars) shows up in connection to the long gestating The Stand project.

It is clear that King is back in Hollywood’s good graces, also turning into a tough quest for major TV and streaming networks. So far, so good. IT was a revelation and Gerald’s Game proved that a visionary director, Mike Flanagan, could make a film out of an “unfilmable” book.

But Flanagan’s upcoming adaptation of Doctor Sleep (King’s sequel to The Shining) will have to deal with plenty of new challenges. Not only must it please King’s fans, notorious for being very picky and vocal, but Flanagan also needs to carry The Shining director Stanley Kubrick’s legacy of terror without ruining the source material as Kubrick did. On top of all this, he has to rise up to King’s expectations, which are not low. Will Flanagan make it through?

What Sequel is this Anyway?

Published 36 years after The Shining, Doctor Sleep reacquaints us with an adult Danny Torrance – now in his 40s and still shook up by the horrific childhood winter spent in the Overlook Hotel. Danny is a drifter, a profoundly disturbed man looking for the light and trying at his best to (unsuccessfully) overcome his (and his father’s) demons: alcoholism, rage, violence, and insanity.

Warner Bros. Pictures enlisted horror fandom-favorite Flanagan to helm this project, soon after the director expressed his interest and intention to adapt Doctor Sleep for the silver screen. If everything goes according to plan, Doctor Sleep will mark its debut in 2020, right on time to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Stanley Kubrick’s vision of The Shining (which, yes, King still hates).

Flanagan took it upon him to rewrite the script from the original text, starting from scratch and not relying on Akiva Goldsman’s (The Dark Tower) version. The director is not alone in his mission: Trevor Macy (Oculus, another Flanagan success) will produce the sequel alongside Goldsman as an executive producer and, according to Variety, Ewan McGregor will interpret the part of adult Danny Torrance.

We all know that The Shining movie was very different from the book, so the next logical question is this: will Flanagan faithfully adapt King’s novel or will he continue the story from Kubrick’s point of view? We will soon see.

However, this wait does not lack emotion. On the one hand, Oculus is one of the scariest movies in recent times. On the other, The Dark Tower was so bad that no words can describe it. Flanagan should learn from others’ past mistakes: you can bother the writer, but under no circumstance dare to upset the fans. How many fans Doctor Sleep has remains to be seen.

Mike Flanagan is a Rising Star

The director managed to make a considerable name for himself in the horror genre by superbly piloting projects such as Oculus, Ouija: Origin of Evil, Hush, Before I Wake and the recent King’s Gerald’s Game adaptation. His Haunting of Hill House TV series (based on the 1959 gothic horror novel by Shirley Jackson) may very well prove that Flanagan can blend the old and the new with respect, talent, and feeling, bringing viewers the best of both worlds.

After gaining all the momentum he needed with the successful Netflix’s Gerald’s Game, Flanagan admitted that his dream was to direct Doctor Sleep and Lisey’s Story – a King masterful study on marriage and the human soul.

“There are so many. But the ones I’d want to do the most are DOCTOR SLEEP and LISEY’S STORY. In both cases, it’s because I identify with the protagonists so much. LISEY’S STORY is a stunning piece of work, a beautiful exploration of marriage. And who wouldn’t want to venture back into the world of Danny Torrance?”

A month later, Warner Bros. offered him the task of turning Doctor Sleep into a compelling horror drama for cinema.

We cannot say that Flanagan will be faithful to the original story. Kubrick was not, and people are still raving about The Shining forty years later, despite King’s dismay.

What we can reaffirm is that Gerald’s Game was “unfilmable” for decades, until Flanagan proved everybody wrong. He has a knack for King’s works and the author’s characters, tropes, and literary tricks, knowing how to transfer them onto the screen.

With McGregor as Danny Torrance, Kyliegh Curran as Abra Stone, and Rebecca Ferguson as Rose the Hat, Mike Flanagan has good chances of repeating the success of Gerald’s Game.

Will he become the next Frank Darabont? Fans know it is hard to rise up to the bar Darabont set, as he is still the best director ever to have worked with King’s books, turning his projects into Oscar-nominated and awarded examples of success (The Green Mile, Shawshank Redemption, The Mist).

Does Flanagan stand the chance of being just as good as Darabont if not even better?

People certainly hope so, as King’s books deserve the best movie adaptations – namely, the ones that can fix the books’ flaws (and Doctor Sleep has a handful), while faithfully telling the same compelling story King did in writing. If The Dark Tower and IT were any indication, King’s books deserve somebody who knows what he does and understands what the author’s fans want.

Final Thoughts

The horror genre rides once again the wave of success and global praise. Long gone are the days of cheap tricks, weak effects, one-size-fits-all scripts, ridiculous plots, and non-convincing acting. Flanagan is one of the new-gen directors who shows a deep understanding of the field. He also passed the test by transforming an unfilmable book into a Netflix success, while he takes things up a few notches by tapping into gothic horror, one of the most demanding sub-genres in classic literature and movie making.

Flanagan will not have an easy time with this sequel, that’s for sure. The bar is high, and he has to live up to the expectations set by Gerald’s Game and by Andy Muschietti’s IT. All in all, he has to carry on Kubrick’s torch somehow while making Doctor Sleep better than the book was. Who said directors had the best jobs ever?

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