Stephen King said, “They’d be fucking stupid to release [The Boogeyman] on streaming and not in cinemas,” and I’m sad to report I disagree with his passionate praise of this adaptation of his 1973 short story.
The elements for a perfectly solid horror movie are all present, but The Boogeyman never convinced me that it rattled and entertained test audiences as much as Smile and Evil Dead Rise, two other recent horror films meant for streaming that got theatrical releases. It’s far more competently made and effective than last year’s Firestarter remake, however, and while that’s a very low bar, it’s one I’m sure King was glad this movie cleared like the check he cashed for allowing it to be made.
A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods and Black Swan co-writer Mark Heyman loosely adapt King’s original story, taking the seed of a distressed father (a dynamite David Dastmalchian making a meal out of his small role) telling a psychiatrist/therapist that the boogeyman killed all three of his children, discarding the original ending, and expanding the story to be about the boogeyman trying to kill the therapist’s two children. Also, their mom just died because we all know that every horror movie has to be about trauma now.
The Boogeyman offers each member of the Harper family a grief-related arc. Will (Chris Messina) simply refuses to engage with his feelings. Sadie (Sophie Thatcher, getting her first major theatrical release after her promising debut in Prospect and her excellent work on Yellowjackets) engages with her grief all the time. Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, who made a splash as a young Leia Organa on Obi-Wan Kenobi) sleeps with the lights on?
I don’t know if that’s related to her grief. I lied, only two members of the Harper family get a grief-related arc, and the small child just innocently says, “Mom would have known what to do,” the algorithmically generated line given to a small child who’s lost her mom in order to pierce the audience’s heart, and then never mentions her mother again.
Pretty much all of the grief material feels algorithmically generated instead of sincere and authentic, but Thatcher’s performance gives it much more pathos than it otherwise would have, her most cutting scene is one in which Sadie pours her heart out to her dad, who spends all day listening to people pour their hearts out to him, and instead of having a heartfelt conversation with his daughter, he tells her to talk to her therapist about that. The film also decides to throw some potential ghost/afterlife material regarding Sadie’s dead mom into the mix for emotional resonance, but it does not really mesh well with the boogeyman mythos, especially given that the boogeyman can supposedly mimic other people – a concept the movie does absolutely nothing interesting with.
Unfortunately, The Boogeyman, a movie about the boogeyman, fails to do the boogeyman justice. The completely CGI creation feels entirely weightless, and the film can’t decide what kind of supernatural monster it wants it to be. While one character delivers exposition implying that it’s some ancient being that existed even before humans, the film doesn’t actually convey that sense of cosmic horror. That same character also delivers exposition implying that it latches on to the hurt and vulnerable, which turns it into some kind of metaphor for grief instead of the traditional embodiment of a child’s fear.
Another character says it’s what comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention, which turns it into some kind of metaphor for the father not paying attention to his grieving children? I guess?
While the script isn’t clear on what the audience is supposed to feel about the boogeyman, it also isn’t clear on the boogeyman’s M.O. I get the sense that Beck and Woods simply said, “What if the aliens from A Quiet Place but it hates light instead of sound?” and thought about it like an actual physical thing more than a supernatural monster. Director Rob Savage does cultivate an ominous atmosphere—though I wish cinematographer Eli Born didn’t lazily shoot the damn thing in muted tones by default—and he has a lot of patience in his desire to induce dread more than unleashing jump scares. The problem is I’ve seen movies like Lights Out and The Conjuring do similar scares with more cleverness and terror.
Still, he gets a lot of mileage out of the creepy image of the boogeyman’s glowing eyes in the dark, and his best work comes when he shows the least, as in a great series of shots where you can see the boogeyman appear in flashes but only out of focus in the background. It’s the less conventional way to do that scare, and I wished for a lot more of that creativity, as Savage’s innovative scares in Host gave me high hopes for this movie. Intellectually, I could see the craft in Savage’s horror direction, but I rarely felt it viscerally because of the weak script and the generic score by Patrick Jonsson.
I should have left this movie terrified of my closet door being ajar! You wouldn’t be fucking stupid to go see The Boogeyman in a cinema, but unlike King, I think it’s perfectly acceptable to wait for it to hit streaming.