The most WTF scene in 'Doctor Sleep' can be explained by one thing: 'RWBY'

Rooster Teeth's hit anime plays a small but key role in 'Doctor Sleep.'

Warner Bros. Pictures

One of the strangest scenes in the new horror movie Doctor Sleep can be explained with… anime. The new film adaptation of the 2013 Stephen King novel and sequel to the 1977 thriller The Shining (itself turned into a classic film by Stanley Kubrick) features minor references to the hit Rooster Teeth anime series, RWBY.

But one abstract moment that plays up the film’s psychic fantasy elements can actually be explained with some knowledge of RWBY and one character who inhabits that universe, an antagonist named Emerald Sustrai.

Warning: Minor spoilers for Doctor Sleep ahead.

In Doctor Sleep, Ewan McGregor plays Danny Torrance, a character introduced as a child in The Shining (in Kubrick’s film, Danny was played by child actor Danny Lloyd). Cursed with a psychic power called the “Shining,” and traumatized by the actions of his father, Danny struggles with alcoholism before getting clean thanks to the help of a friend in New Hampshire.

At his part-time job at a hospice, Danny uses his Shining to ease patients into the afterlife. That gives him the nickname, “Doctor Sleep.” But it’s that same power that puts Danny in contact with a young girl, Abra (Kyliegh Curran), another one with the “Shining” targeted by Rose (Rebecca Ferguson), a powerful, quasi-immortal being who feeds off psychic children.

A little more than halfway through the film, Danny meets Abra at her home to concoct a plan to kill Rose and her tribe of immortals who’ve killed too many children. Abra, who is otherwise a regular teenaged girl, has a room adorned with posters and action figures featuring characters from RWBY. A figurine of the character Emerald Sustrai, who has the unique power to create illusions, is placed on her night stand.

Kyliegh Curran (left) with Ewan McGregor (center) behind the scenes of 'Doctor Sleep' with director Mike Flanagan (right).

Warner Bros. Pictures

Later, Abra and Rose confront each other in a psychic plane, which can change shape depending on the individual. While Abra’s mind is organized with filing cabinets, Rose brags that hers is a cathedral. As Rose snoops around Abra’s mind, Abra surprises Rose by trapping her hand in a cabinet. That leaves Rose vulnerable to let Abra infiltrate her, allowing her to roam Rose’s “cathedral” and learn all of her darkest secrets accumulated over centuries.

Throughout the sequence, Abra has adorned a light green bob, an homage to her favorite character in RWBY, Emerald. And wouldn’t you know it, Emerald has similar powers to the “Shining,” too.

A still from 'RWBY' Volume 6. The show recently began airing Volume 7 on Rooster Teeth FIRST.

Rooster Teeth


Pronounced “ruby,” RWBY is a popular anime created by the late Monty Oum that premiered in 2013. Set in a modern fantasy world called Remnant, the show follows four teenaged girls who train to become monster hunters and protect their world from evil beasts, called Grimm. Produced by Austin-based animation studio Rooster Teeth, the show recently started airing its seventh season on Rooster Teeth’s VOD platform FIRST.

While Emerald isn’t one of the main characters, she is a prominent antagonist who notably has the power to create illusions, albeit with some personal limitations. (She can’t really use her powers on more than one person at the same time or she’ll suffer some serious headaches.)

In the film, Abra uses Emerald-like powers against Rose to fool her into thinking she’s asleep in bed when she’s actually waiting for the right moment to strike.

Emerald, an antagonist in 'RWBY' who features as an Easter egg in the 2019 horror film 'Doctor Sleep.'

Rooster Teeth

How fandom became synergy

Although Rooster Teeth is a subsidiary of WarnerMedia, which produced Doctor Sleep through Warner Bros. Pictures, the corporate synergy actually begins with the actress of Abra: 13-year-old Kyliegh Curran who is a die-hard fan of RWBY.

“It was very serendipitous,” says Alan Abdine, Rooster Teeth’s Director and Senior VP of Business Development. “Unbeknownst, the actress was like, a big fan of Rooster Teeth and RWBY.”

Although there had already been plans for Rooster Teeth to participate in cross-branding content with Doctor Sleep - the Achievement Hunter group recently paid a visit to the Stanley Hotel, the hotel that inspired Stephen King to write The Shining — it was in 2018 when the filmmakers of Doctor Sleep requested posters and other merchandise of RWBY to feature in the film.

Representatives for Rooster Teeth say that requests for assorted merchandise for film and TV productions are actually quite common, but Doctor Sleep made “specific request” for RWBY, a rep tells Inverse.

“We’re always looking for opportunities to connect with Warner Bros. with movies we’re excited about coming out in 2020,” Abdine says. “In this case the actress happened to be a fan as well. It felt natural and organic.”

Doctor Sleep is in theaters now.

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