A funeral procession passes us on the left, as we ride a shuttle to Blackhall Studios in Atlanta, the soundstages where Doctor Sleep, the sequel to The Shining, is being filmed. We drive through a long, wooded road, decrepit houses begging to be demolished on either side of us. They look like haunted places, shells of the past that refuse to die. Much like the Overlook Hotel itself, as we’ll soon find out.
When we arrive, we’re quickly ushered into Stage 7. Nothing else is filming at Blackhall at the moment, according to our driver, who reveals that the Dwayne Johnson-starring Jungle Cruise has recently wrapped. Doctor Sleep has the soundstages to itself, day 39 of a 50-day shoot. Walking through its gaping mouth, Stage 7 is pitch black, another place in another time. You are suddenly little Danny Lloyd turning a corner, heading towards the horrors of Room 237. And then…
We’re on the set of the new Overlook Hotel, restored by the craftsmen at Warner Bros. who have recreated both its stunningingly grotesque rooms, left to rot in the decades since a mad caretaker tried to murder his wife and son with an ax, as well as the the massive Colorado Lounge where a typewriter still sits, waiting for its master. The level of detail in these reconstructions is unbelievable, a real boon for the movie written and directed by Mike Flanagan (Gerald’s Game, The Haunting of Hill House).
If you’re wondering how the Overlook Hotel is back in an adaptation of Doctor Sleep, which follows Stephen King‘s version of the story in which the hotel was destroyed at the end of the first book, it’s because Flanagan’s movie follows elements of both the King novel and Stanley Kubrick’s movie, no small feat considering the writer hates the famed auteur’s version of The Shining. Somehow, Flanagan convinced King to go along with this.
Listening to Flanagan describe the movie and its sets, you get the sense that no filmmaker has ever been so excited to work on a King movie, even one with as many expectations as this one. After all, it’s the sequel to not only one of King’s most beloved novels but one of the greatest horror movies of all time. It’s no easy task to follow up a movie as masterful as Kubrick’s, but here is Flanagan, with plenty of great horror projects under his belt, and a true love for King’s work.
“I saw The Shining, I think, it was in eighth grade,” Flanagan tells our group of journalists in a large, rundown living room that we’ll soon learn is part of the Room 237 interior they’ve recreated from scratch. And yes, the infamous pastel green bathroom haunted by the cackling Mrs. Massey is located just behind us. “I watched it on VHS at a sleepover and was totally petrified. And I didn’t really start to digest the movie properly and understand it from a filmmaking perspective until I got older. But it pretty much defined what it meant to be scared of a movie for me.”
That terror eventually developed into a true love of the horror masterpiece for Flanagan, who has spent the last decade, starting with 2011’s underrated Absentia, scaring the hell out of us.
“The thing I love about The Shining is, and I would say it to some of the crew when we were working is, tell me your favorite jump scare in The Shining,” Flanagan says. “There just ain’t one. It’s all atmosphere and just this oppressive tension.”
There’s “oppressive tension” in droves inside Room 237, which, even when full of people, exudes an eerie energy, like something lies in wait inside its rooms. In the universe of the film, it looks like the Overlook has been forgotten by time, likely closed down after the Torrance incident. Gone is the splendor of its rooms and hallways. Everything looks dilapidated, disgusting even, from the dusty coffee table and dirty pinkish-purple couch in 237’s living room to its incredibly ugly green and purple carpet pattern. Everything looks unspeakably dirty and worn, including a series of skeletal hallways covered in blue, floral pattern wallpaper begging to be peeled off. You have the odd sensation that one day soon the Overlook will simply sweat its skin off.
“There is a spirit to these sets that’s undeniable. And I felt it every time I’ve come in, especially in this room that wandered off into that bathroom. When you step into these there is a change in the air and the crew and cast have made moments about it,” Flanagan says. “There’s a reverence I think everybody feels in these spaces and they do take on the sense of waiting for something around the corner or in the dark.”
Asked if there have been any real-life scares inside the set, Flanagan is reassuring (perhaps for our benefit): “We have had creepy, weird stuff but it’s all been typical production stuff [like] equipment problems or weird unexplainable noises. Then we find out it’s just the way we wired something.”
Spooky moments aside, most of the time, you can’t tell if it’s work or play for Flanagan, who’s shooting a flashback scene during our visit with a child actor named Dakota. She plays the preschool-aged version of Abra Stone, the girl at the center of Doctor Sleep. We watch from a separate room, eyes on a series of monitors, as Flanagan directs Dakota through a bedtime scene that we assume will turn horrific at some point. We don’t get to see the scare, though. The scene is completely spoiler-free.
Instead, we watch as Abra’s parents tuck Dakota into her little pink comforter. When the cameras aren’t rolling, Dakota loves to play patty cake with the crew and jump on the bed. It’s actually her last day on set. When she wraps, Flanagan gifts Dakota the stuffed bunny she loved playing with between takes.
“One of the lessons that I heard about early when I started learning about The Shining, Dan Lloyd had no idea he was in a horror movie. When I first learned that I was so surprised to hear that. He gave such an amazing performance for a kid who’s surrounded by gore. He had no clue,” Flanagan says of shooting child actors in a horror movie. “Let them have a good time. Let them be themselves more than anything.”
The director actually spoke to Lloyd about what it was like to play Danny Torrance in Kubrick’s film. Judging by the way he works with Dakota (and presumably Kyliegh Curran, who plays a slightly older Abra), he’s taken a few pages from the master’s book.
“I was chatting with Dan Lloyd on what he was asked to do in The Shining, and they would basically give him some context on where he was going and then Kubrick would say, ‘Give me your scared face. Look right into the camera and make your scared face.’ And they would all laugh together. He had no idea what he was supposed to reacting to or why.”
Before the next scene, Flanagan sits at a desk in 237, typing away on his laptop. He is concentrating on the screen, oblivious to his surroundings, as if the spirit of Mrs. Massey isn’t waiting in the bathtub in the next room over.
You can hear the echo of your footsteps on the cold, scuffed tile floor as you walk through the bathroom. The mirrors and sinks and toilet and bathtub are caked with muck. In the Doctor Sleep novel, King describes the old woman as slowly creeping towards Danny, leaving little bits of her rotted flesh behind with every step, as if to say, “Mrs. Massey was here.” What has she left behind for Dan (played by Ewan McGregor) for his return trip 40 years later?
In the Doctor Sleep trailer, we see brief snippets of scenes from The Shining, flashbacks that were re-shot for the sequel. There’s the scene in 237 and Danny encountering the twins at the end of the hallway. The river of blood that gushes out of the elevator is the only one of those scenes taken directly from Kubrick’s footage.
It looks like Dan, who battles the movie’s villain, Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson), at the Overlook, is reliving his past. At one point in the trailer, we see him walking through the old caretaker’s room, where his father tried to murder him and his mother. Dan looks through the shattered bathroom door on which he once scribbled the word “REDRUM,” the same door Jack Nicholson drove an ax through.
Four decades later this room still sends chills down your spine. Once again, the set looks like it was ripped right out of the Kubrick movie, as we all stick our faces through the hole in the door just like Nicholson did.
Flanagan really admires The Shining‘s set design and lauds the way Kubrick was able to make every corner of the Overlook frightening.
“The sets are haunted in different ways,” Flanagan says. “I think they’re haunted because of how the creepy imagery Kubrick created has burned itself into our consciousness, has burned itself into the media forever.”
The director can’t help but join us for the final part of the tour, the pièce de résistance: we’re going to the Colorado Lounge just as the Torrance family left it on that hellish winter.
“It’s like nothing I’ve ever gotten to work on before. When you walk into the Colorado Lounge, you can’t stop giggling, which is amazing,” Flanagan tells us as we walk across the yard to another soundstage. On the way, we run into Overlook butler Delbert Grady and former owner Horace Derwent, ghosts from The Shining who are having a casual chat before their own scenes. They seem nice.
The Doctor Sleep crew started building the interior of the Overlook in August 2018 and we’re visiting that following November. The set will be taken down the day after our visit, making way for the exterior of the hotel, which is being constructed in another part of the soundstage.
The Colorado Lounge is impressive. As soon as you walk into the wide open space where Jack did his best work, there’s the desk at one end of the room, a chair overturned, never to be put back in place. The level of detail is almost obsessive: the tall, stained glass windows boast the exact same patterns as in the Kubrick film; the rugs, including one made out of a bear skin, are in their respective places; Flanagan and his team even went over Kubrick’s footage to get the color of each book in the bookshelves just right. If the ghost of Jack Torrance is to be found anywhere in the Overlook, it’ll likely be here, this mausoleum.
Before us is the grand staircase where Jack preyed on Wendy. It splits in two on the first floor and we get to take every step the Torrances took. Fortunately, no one is holding a bat this time around.
Yes, there’s a second floor — and there is the infamous, hypnotic carpet, the tacky looking thing fans and conspiracy theorists have been obsessing over for years. The kaleidoscopic pattern of red, yellow, brown, and black, weird shapes all snuggly fit within each other, is mesmerizing. On one end of the second floor hallway is the last ghastly detail: Danny’s tricycle, waiting just outside the door to Room 237. Flanagan tells us that we’re free to ride the tricycle down the hall, as Danny once did, and make the left turn where the twins are waiting to play. It’s a nightmare come true.
This is it. The Overlook lives once again and it awaits new guests. Pretty soon, Dan will be walking through those doors and up those stairs and into the Torrance residence. But before we can see any of that — including a night shoot Flanagan promises us is insane — it’s check out time.
Doctor Sleep hits theaters on Nov. 8.