If you did a search for the title on Google, you’d probably find multiple iterations that vary wildly in terms of content, length and medium. Many of these stem from the myths surrounding things that go bump in the night, and many more (particularly in film) source Stephen King‘s short story of the same name, published in 1978. The simplicity of its premise and mythology allow for the expansion of the short story to feel right at home 40+ years later, which is where we find ourselves with “The Boogeyman.” Borrowing the themes of grief, trauma, and fear from its source material, the film attempts to bring all of those ideas to light from the darkness. Though it has a lot on its mind and has moments of solid craft and execution, “The Boogeyman” is hindered by its own tropes and unwillingness to run with the ideas in more imaginative ways.
Directed by Rob Savage (“Salt,” “Dashcam” from a screenplay by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman (Beck and Woods having worked previously on “A Quiet Place” with Heyman drafting the final script) “The Boogyeman” follows the Harper family reeling from the death of their mother. The father Will (Chris Messina) is a therapist incapable of connecting or communicating with his own daughters in the wake of his wife’s death, the oldest Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) withdrawing into herself and unable to let go in the slightest, and their youngest Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair aka Little Leia from “Obi Wan Kenobi“) is afraid of the dark. After a mysterious man shows up at their house to seek help from Will only to hang himself in their closet shortly after, the family is plagued by a supernatural presence that thrives in dark corners and dark rooms. Hellbent on tormenting the children until it goes in for the kill, it forces them to not only survive and stay in the light but convince everyone else that there really are monsters in the closet before it’s too late.
Any time there are three writers listed on a script, I get a little wary of its merit. “The Boogeyman” is no exception, bogged down by a plethora of ideas that leave a bit too much fat to be trimmed to deliver a more concise horror thriller. This leaves the film largely reliant on horror tropes as opposed to letting their themes cook and seep into the viewers psyche. “The Boogeyman” actually works best when it’s shrouded in mystery, and barring some ill advised sub plots that feel like a box check rather than something that enhances the story, it is pretty effective. Savage knows how to use his setting to turn up the creep factors, utilizing every dark corner and practical effect to manifest a genuinely chilling atmosphere. But for every successful moment there’s an ugly trope that renders them ineffective. Not entirely, as I would be lying if I said “The Boogeyman” didn’t get me a few times. But it does leave viewers wanting, with a hope for more of its risks and far less of its tried and true formulaic narrative.
It’s really Thatcher who takes the reins on this one, and works overtime to put the pieces together and drive the story forward. Without her stellar work, “The Boogeyman” would be largely unrecognizable in a sea of Shudder Originals. Blair is fine as the younger sibling, turning in a better performance than her previous “Obi-Wan” stint, but I’m just not completely sold on her talents just yet. It’s hard when Thatcher is running circles around everyone, even Messina who isn’t necessarily bad as much as the film has way less to say about him and opts to give as little to do as possible. This is a strange choice since the backbone of the narrative rests on the family dynamic and how they’re all choosing to process (or not process in some cases) their own grief. Horror through trauma done right can soar, much like last year’s “Smile,” and while “The Boogeyman” has a similar foundation it doesn’t quite get to where it wants to go thematically.
“The Boogeyman” also fails to obey its own rules, and can’t seem to focus itself enough to be consistently unsettling the longer it goes on. The whole idea of the monster is that it preys on the vulnerable and weak, latching onto the trauma of loss as an invitation to torment its prey. At least, that’s what the film wants you to believe, but in practice Sawyer is the one who begins to see the monster first, her only weakness being afraid of the dark. If the idea is that it is being fueled by those with the most grief, then it should be Sadie who gets the brunt of it all. She’s the one incapable of letting go of anything her mother left behind, even wearing one of her old dresses to school and holding on to a rotting lunch bag as the last note written to her. I get that this feels like nitpicking, but it’s misfires like this that hold “The Boogeyman” back from being as effective as it strives to be. Truthfully, the film would work perfectly fine without Sawyer, and would function better if it zeroed in on the chasm of grief between a father and daughter.
As concerned as “The Boogeman” is with having something to say, it loses its purpose by the third act, falling victim to one horror cliche after another. There’s even a group of mean girls who are supposedly Sadie’s friends but act more like the worst version of every high school bully for no other reason than to, again, check a horror movie box. It’s really unfortunate, because there is a great film in “The Boogeyman” that is lost by its plethora of pens and conflicting ideas of how to expand the source material. Savage is so effective in using space and Thatcher is enthralling as a sort of final girl you have to wonder why they opted to show the monster at all. The entirety of film is about being terrorized by what you can’t see and how our grief can turn into terror in the dark, and the few times it recognizes this is when it works best. The monster isn’t nearly as scary as the very idea of something lurking behind the door unseen, or a pair of glowing eyes that may or may not be real. It’s the psychological hauntings that work best in “The Boogeyman,” but are used less and less the longer the film runs.
“The Boogeyman“ is a middling horror film that struggles to balance the effective atmospheric haunts with muddled horror cliches, leaving it unable to mask its obvious trauma allegories and maintain consistent horror intrigue that feels on the cusp of delivering but falls short.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
“The Boogeyman” hits theaters June 2. You can watch the trailer below.