If there is one thing no genre director will ever turn down, it’s an offer to do a Stephen King adaptation. And that’s exactly what Rob Savage was offered. The Boogeyman, based on King’s short story of the same name, was originally supposed to go straight to streaming, but a strongly positive response from test screenings prompted Disney to release The Boogeyman in cinemas and for that, we should be grateful.
Differing ever so slightly from the source material, The Boogeyman follows the Harper family, still reeling from the loss of their matriarch. Dad Will (Chris Messina) is a therapist, who is unable to process his own grief. His two daughters Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) have had to find their own ways of dealing with such a monumental loss.
Their lives take a terrifying turn when Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) turns up at Will’s home practice without an appointment. Lester’s children have died inexplicably, both scared of a boogeyman hiding in their closets. It now seems that Lester might have brought the boogeyman with him, as both Sadie and Sawyer begin to see something in the darkness.
The biggest crutch The Boogeyman has to overcome is the rather conventional narrative. It’s a classic story that for the most part works great, even if it boils down to the overused grief = terror metaphor. The horror in The Boogeyman is exemplary; the titular monster is truly terrifying and Savage skillfully strikes a delicate balance between showing us just enough of it and not showing us so much the mystery disappears.
The cast, too, are on fantastic form. Messina, arguably the most underrated Chris in Hollywood, makes for a great leading man, even if the script, penned by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman, struggles to find him anything meaningful to do.
Ultimately, The Boogeyman focuses more on Sadie and her grief. Thatcher, best known for her role in Yellowjackets, is emotionally open and vulnerable throughout the film, making it easy to relate to her. But the real star is the young Vivien Lyra Blair. She was wonderful as a young Princess Leia in Obi-Wan Kenobi, but The Boogeyman will hopefully make her into a full-fledged star. Clutching a moon-shaped lamp in most scenes, Blair communicates the sheer terror effectively.
Arguably, The Boogeyman feels a lot slicker, more polished than Savage’s previous films, Host and Dashcam. This may be because of the increased budget and production value, but it’s hard not to miss the visceral horror and scrappiness of his previous work.
The Boogeyman also has an uphill battle to fight among horror fans. In the US, it’s released with a PG-13 rating, meaning anyone over 13 can watch the film. This is great news for younger horror enthusiasts and there is plenty of exciting horror to be found in The Boogeyman, but it does limit the amount of gore and threat the film can go for.
It’s not that The Boogeyman isn’t scary. It’s creepy and the monster design is superb, but the film can’t always sustain the tension or intensity Savage is more than capable of creating. The horror works better than the overly familiar family drama does, but it often feels cut short.
The film is helped tremendously by its sound design. Every noise feels guttural and scary, amplifying the sense that something is just waiting to pounce in the darkness. Every jump scare is meticulously crafted by Savage and very effective. The Boogeyman is the perfect gateway to horror, full of ambience and a great monster but it would have benefited from a slightly more inventive script.
The Boogeyman is in cinemas 2 June.