The Plot: Following the accidental death of his wife, therapist Will (Chris Messina) tends to his children – teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and young Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair). Will deals with cold hard reality, but soon comes to question it when new patient Lester (David Dastmalchian) turns up with a spooky story. He denies having killed his children and shifts the focus onto an apparent entity that hides in the shadows and is to blame for the deaths. It follows Lester to the house and then starts to torment Sawyer. Terrified of the dark and what might lie underneath her bed and in the closet, The Boogeyman is coming for Sawyer..
The Verdict: Stephen King’s richly-layered stories (spooky or otherwise) have been a deep well from which Hollywood has frequently dipped into, sometimes with rewarding results and others… not so much. There are also those that fall somewhere in between but still retain a certain mystical power, which is where The Boogeyman comes into play. Based on the 1970s short story that first appeared in a magazine before ending up in the novella collection Night Shift, The Boogeyman sees King playing around with childhood fears of the dark and just what night terrors might lie in wait for an unsuspecting child. It’s something that immediately attracted British director Rob Savage, here making his Hollywood debut after a double whammy of lockdown found footage horror Host and by far last year’s worst film Dashcam. To spring back from the Dashcam debacle and actually make something worthwhile is a minor achievement for Savage, but obviously someone in Hollywood saw that he can engineer the cinematic equivalent of a ghost train ride.
Essentially, that is what The Boogeyman is – with less of the cheap ghoulish effects popping out at the audience. Armed with a decent budget and proper actors this time, he has taken King’s short story (adapted by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman) and turned it into a slow-burn ride which keeps its screeching title character in the shadows for most of the film. There’s much more of a focus on the family in crisis here, viewed from the perspective of the children as they tell apparent tall tales to the disbelief of adults who have long since stopped believing in something else existing out there in the ether. It’s a more character-driven film than it initially appears and this undoubtedly works in the film’s favour. Narrative and emotional investment in the characters ups the danger factor, particularly when Sawyer is targeted by the entity with a generic name. It’s not quite like any boogeyman seen before though. It’s a spindly, spider-like creature that lurks in the shadows and is reminiscent of other imaginative King nightmare fuel creations from a dark corner of his mind.
The creature design is impressive, with Savage making good use of lighting effects and crackly sound design to fill in the audience blanks. Like most good creature features, Savage keeps his Boogeyman hidden for most of the film – a glimpse there, some glinting eyes in the dark, sudden scattered movement leaving the frame. The first two acts have to compensate for the OK third act, which predictably brings the Boogeyman into the light and thereby takes some of its mystery away as the story moves to a resolution. It’s not nearly as effective as what came before. The climax has a whiff of studio notes being sent to the set to go down the conventional route rather than blow this ghost train ride off its rails – which Savage did before with Host, even when the structure of that film was clunky. However, it’s a forgivable misstep when the overall impression of The Boogeyman is a creepily effective, character-driven horror that succeeds in being unsettling and creating an atmosphere of palpable fear throughout. Make sure that the closet door is closed tonight.
Rating: 3 / 5
Review by Gareth O’Connor
The Boogeyman (USA / Canada / 15A / 98 mins)
In short: Creepily effective
Directed by Rob Savage.
Starring Chris Messina, Sophie Thatcher, Vivien Lyra Blair, David Dastmalchian, Marin Ireland.