Horror fans probably know that this latest cinematic adaptation of a Stephen King property was originally slated to go directly to streaming until positive reactions from both test audiences and the author himself prompted a theatrical release instead.
It was a good decision, since the scares in The Boogeyman are so slow-burn and atmospheric that it benefits greatly from the big screen. Not to mention that most of the film takes place in such darkness that the action will only be discernible on the best high-def televisions.
The Bottom Line
Bring someone to grab.
Based on a short story by King that was included in his Night Shift collection, the film, which takes considerable liberties with its source material, is an intimate tale largely revolving around three characters: Will (Chris Messina), his teenage daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher, Yellowjackets) and her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, Obi-Wan Kenobi). The trio are still in shock from the recent loss of the children’s mother, who died in an automobile accident, and live in the sort of old, weatherworn house that fairly demands to be haunted.
The story is set in motion when Will, a therapist who conducts his practice from home and whose grey beard and corduroy jacket exude empathy, is startled by the unexpected arrival of a stranger, Lester (David Dastmalchian, The Suicide Squad), who begs for an immediate consultation. Although wary, Will takes pity on the man’s suffering and allows him to tell his story. Lester tells him that he’s been blamed for the murder of his three young children, but that he had nothing to do it. Rather, their deaths were caused by “the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention.”
That thing, of course, is the boogeyman, and after a chilling episode that takes place during Lester’s visit, it soon becomes apparent, at least to Sadie and Sawyer, that things are literally starting to go bump in the night in the house. When Sadie takes it upon herself to visit Lester’s seemingly abandoned home, she meets his very disturbed wife (Marin Ireland, The Umbrella Academy), who tells her that the boogeyman is, in fact, real.
Here’s the thing about boogeymen, though. They’re a lot scarier to imagine than to actually see. And so it goes for the film superbly directed by Rob Savage. For much of its running time, The Boogeyman ratchets up the tension so tightly, abetted by a judicious and very effective use of jump scares (another benefit of the theatrical release are those killer sound systems in theaters these days), that it becomes truly nerve-jangling. It’s only when the boogeyman becomes fully exposed in the final act that he loses his power and the film becomes more of a rote creature feature. (No disrespect to the creature designers, who have done outstanding work.)
As is so often the case with horror films, the characters often behave ridiculously, repeatedly putting themselves in the sort of dangerous situations that prompt audience members to shout at the screen in frustration. And nearly every scene takes place in near total darkness, as if it were the Depression and electricity was simply too expensive a commodity. But The Boogeyman nonetheless mostly works, thanks to the expertly calibrated atmospherics, a memorable visual style (the youngest daughter walks around the house holding an illuminated orb for protection, and now I want one), and the committed performances of a very talented cast.
Thatcher is terrific as the plucky teen heroine still reeling from her mother’s death and desperate to protect her little sister, while Blair is so convincingly terrified throughout that you hope that child services monitored the production closely. Messina, working in a very different vein from his manically aggressive sports agent in Air, delivers a solid turn as the loving but helpless father, and Dastmalchian and Ireland are truly chilling in their brief but vivid supporting turns.
The Boogeyman, in both its literary and cinematic forms, is undoubtedly relatively minor King. But when it’s done this well, even minor King is major scary.
Production companies: 20th Century Studios, 21 Laps Entertainment, NeoReel, Twentieth Century Fox
Distributor: 20th Century Studios
Cast: Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, LisaGay Hamilton, David Dastmalchian
Director: Rob Savage
Screenwriters: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Mark Heyman
Producers: Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, Dan Cohen
Executive producers: John H. Starke, Emily Morris, Scott Beck, Bryan oods, Ryan Cunningham, Adam Kolbrenner, Robin Meisinger
Director of photography: Eli Born
Production designer: Jeremy Woodward
Editor: Peter Gvozdas
Costume designer: Kari Perkins
Composer: Patrick Jonsson
Casting: Wittney Horton
1 hour 38 minutes