Mike Flanagan really put himself to the test by deciding to adapt this book to the big screen. Not only do you have pressure to follow up to probably the greatest horror movie of all time, but you also need to please fans of both books. Stephen King notably hated what Stanley Kubrick did with his book in 1980 and doesn’t till this day understand why people think The Shining is the scariest movie of all time. Kubrick got rid of the internal conflict in Jack Torrance and just flat out turned him into a murdering psychopath that hated his family over the course of the movie. Jack Torrance in the books is right on the edge of evil and in the end, decides to sacrifice himself and burns the hotel with him. It’s a stark diversion from the source material and something King never really appreciated. But fans of the movie stand by it and some even feel both the book and movie serve different purposes.
And despite the craziness around it, I think Mike Flanagan has given one of the best Stephen King book adaptations of all time. This man understands narrative, characters and is great with the typical set pieces in horror movies as well. This movie really needs to be appreciated outside its vacuum because that’s where most of the creative decision making has gone.
The True Knot is much bigger in the books and it emphasizes how old they really are, going back thousands of years. This makes them feel like a much bigger threat in comparison to the movie where they were 20 odd people at best even though ageless. The sense of community and family is stronger, and readers understand that they have endured all this time because of their relationships.
The central conflict around both sides is near perfect in the books which I felt the movie did lack. But this is only because of its runtime rather than lazy storytelling. The knot after consuming Bradley Trevor falls victim to a disease (probably because of a lack of vaccination in the kid) which causes cycling; a process in which their bodies catch up with their age and they eventually vaporize. The only way to cure this is to take steam fresh and stronger steam that can cure them. So, the Knot not only is threatened by a kid that could expose them but it’s someone they must consume to survive. The movie however just had one half of the story but still played that very well because the Knot in the movie is much smaller. So, a kid could still potentially expose all of them and bring them down for good.
The book also spends a lot of time with both the parents and a great grandmother that is never really mentioned in the movie. And why that’s necessary to the book and not to the movie is because Danny Torrance is supposed to be Abra’s Mom’s half-brother. I personally wasn’t a huge fan of this because that really diminishes the world-building and it makes it seem Abra was that powerful only because she was linked to Danny. So not only did Flanagan save a bunch of screen time, I feel a relationship between two complete strangers is just more exciting.
Finally for the final Act in the book, Danny and Rose engage in a battle of mental warfare with Abra at home around her parents with a psychic link to Danny. He fools the Knot into believing she’s there with him and is able to deal with Rose once and for all on the site where the Overlook once stood. This is probably the point where the movie becomes one of the best Stephen King adaptations of all time. Mike Flanagan not only brings the Overlook into play; he executes all the elements from the Kubrick movie with such comfort and ease that I had forgotten how difficult of a job he had. I am extremely glad he didn’t try to CGI his way through this and chose actors that just resembled the originals (yes even Jack Nicholson) even if it demands a greater suspension of disbelief on the audience’s part. And for the climax, he brings out the demons locked in Danny’s head (which he manages to remove permanently in the book) to defeat Rose. His demons turn on him after Rose and he then suffers the internal conflict Jack Torrance was supposed to in the Kubrick movie. He then sacrifices himself for Abra burning the Overlook with him.
I am baffled by how good the choices made by Flanagan are. He gives us the ending of The Shining book, he makes excellent use of the choices made by Kubrick and he makes the right compromises while adapting the Doctor Sleep book. All of this leads to a story that makes sense as a standalone without being a mess despite having all the challenges that would terrify a writer. And to top it all, we have some great CGI in the cycling sequences, excellent set pieces (astral projection scene in particular) and amazing performances from actors throughout.
Often what we see doesn’t reflect the work that has gone into it and sadly this movie is a perfect example. Yes, the scores on the internet are just around the good/great range but that’s such a disservice to this amazing tightrope act of an adaptation. One really needs to know the background of these stories in order to appreciate the writing that has gone into this.
Read about what Stephen King feels about this movie here.