Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
There’s a pivotal moment in director Mike Flanagan’s DOCTOR SLEEP that proves he didn’t come to mess around. The auteur has adapted a fairly gruesome scene in author Stephen King’s sequel to The Shining – one that involves a tween boy (played by Jacob Tremblay) and a traveling troupe of vampire-esque soul suckers out to feast off the essence of kids with psychic and telepathic abilities. This terrifying, at times heartbreaking, sequence goes to some pretty daring places with what it shows and the horrors conjured – especially given the character’s young age.
Spoiler Alert: We get into the scene and his character’s fate in this chat. If you haven’t seen DOCTOR SLEEP yet, bookmark this and return after. There are a few spoilers.
Tremblay plays “Bradley Trevor,” a rising star player on his local baseball team. On his way home from a game, after being scouted by the True Knot, they persuade him to get in their van, kidnapping him, taking him to an abandoned area to brutally murder him and eat his “shine.” The shocking sequence that follows shows him kicking, screaming and pleading for his life – one leader Rose the Hat (Rebecca Ferguson) will not spare him.
Not only does Bradley’s death depend on their survival, but it unwittingly opens a psychic gateway, alerting Rose to another child with the gift thousands of miles away. Bradley’s gut-wrenching cries for help alerts Abra (Kyliegh Curran), who, in turn, awakens her “pen pal” Dan Torrance (Ewan McGregor) to answer the call that will lead him towards the redemption he’s been needing for true peace.
It’s a major scene that’s tasked to do a lot in a fairly short amount of time. So Flanagan and his longtime collaborator/ producer Trevor Macy knew they had to cast the right actor to do it. Enter Tremblay, an incredibly gifted actor whose innocence and adorableness instantly ingratiate himself to the audience. This cameo-like appearance was something Flanagan could weaponize. He explained,
“[The reason] was two-fold for us. You carry this automatic love for Jacob Tremblay. He’s probably the most auto-recognizable young actor working right now. On a scene that fraught with peril, we trusted him because of the wonderful experience we had with him on BEFORE I WAKE. I knew what we were going to get, although I didn’t. I thought I did! I was wrong. It was way worse than I would’ve ever imagined.“
“It’s the fulcrum for the whole movie. So when we reached out, I called his dad, “Good news! We’d like to get you back and it’s only three days. (cringes) Read the scene.” (laugh)“
Similar to how excruciating it is to watch the torture of a young child on-screen, Flanagan and company also had a tough time re-creating it. Well, all except two people on set: Tremblay and his father, who both knew what was to come. Flanagan stated,
“We had a horrible time [watching that scene]. When it was over, Jacob popped up, smiling, high fived his dad, smirking. He knew. They worked on it together and knew what we didn’t. He was like, “Oh you guys are in for it.” High-fived his dad and walked over to craft service and got a snack.“
This story gets better! That snack Tremblay munched on was birthday cake, since it was – in somewhat of an ironic twist – his birthday. And not any regular sheet cake would do. Macy said,
“It was in the shape of a little boy and it was red velvet cake.“
Just like poor “Baseball Boy” gets cut apart, Flanagan confirmed that the crew also made sure to cut the cake with similar narrative accuracy, starting in the middle, working their way out. He continued his anecdotes,
“Also on the set that day, we had the dummy. I called him, “Fakeob Tremblay.” That’s what we were going to bury. Even though you never see it in the movie because the dirt, it had the full extent of the wounds and stuff. That was horrible.“
Since Ferguson’s character had the dirty task of killing an innocent child, she also was overcome by Tremblay’s performance, Flanagan shared.
“None of us, especially Rebecca Ferguson, she was thoroughly unprepared for what he did.“
Macy stated it wasn’t only her affected by Tremblay’s work in that scene.
“We were both crying at the monitor.“
As is, the scene runs for a few short minutes, but they shot and assembled other versions. Flanagan elucidated,
“You only see the tip of it. There were more versions of that scene put together in editorial than any other scene of the movie because we were so – not scared – aware. We didn’t want to scare people out of the theater.“
DOCTOR SLEEP is now playing.