‘The Boogeyman’ Review – A Familiar Grief Metaphor Delivers on Potent Scares

The Boogeyman, directed by Rob Savage (Host) with a screenplay by Scott Beck & Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place65) and Mark Heyman (Black Swan), draws from Stephen King‘s 1973 short story of the same title. Rather than presenting a straightforward adaptation of King’s text, however, The Boogeyman uses its narrative as the film’s inciting event, acting as a spiritual sequel. While it never expands the mythology or story in any substantial way, this film adaptation is offset by Savage’s steadfast commitment to scares and a tremendous cast.

Sixteen-year-old Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and her 10-year-old sister, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), struggle in the wake of their mother’s unexpected passing. That their father, therapist Will Harper (Chris Messina), seems emotionally closed off in his grief doesn’t help. The fractured family bonds grow even more precarious when a volatile new patient, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), unexpectedly arrives at Will’s home office asking for aid.

Letting him inside brings a world of horror as Lester leaves behind a malevolent presence eager to prey upon the Harper children.

Sophie Thatcher Vivian Blair

(L-R): Sophie Thatcher as Sadie Harper and Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer Harper in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOOGEYMAN. Photo by Patti Perret. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

One shocking opener pushes the PG-13 rating straightaway, driving Lester into the melancholic Harper household. Dastmalchian’s reliably captivating and emotional performance lays the early groundwork for the encroaching supernatural terror with an unsettling depiction of a man drowning from guilt and grief. This introductory sequence catches viewers up to speed on King’s original story, altering its conclusion to transfer its monstrous devourer of trauma to a household marred by it. Grief is the sustaining emotion throughout, and Sadie feels it most keenly. On that front, character arcs remain mostly a straight line as the Harper family tries to navigate the figurative and literal monsters lurking in the dark. How they engage with the encroaching threat reflects their various ways of coping with grief, from Will’s denial to Sadie’s increasing anger.

Rob Savage demonstrates a continued knack for scare crafting throughout, bringing no shortage of terrifying moments, jump scares, and unsettling dread as the Boogeyman entrenches itself further into the dark recesses of the Harper house. Savage manages to wring a freshness from even the most familiar scares with his use of light as an opposing force to darkness.  

Sophie Thatcher makes a tremendous effort to sustain the high level of Sadie’s unrelenting terror, sorrow, and desperation. Sadie’s motherly affection toward younger sister Sawyer presents the backbone, and Vivien Lyra Blair’s palpable fear and precociousness solidify the audience’s allegiances for the family straight away. A scene-stealing Marin Ireland enters the equation at the right moment to liven up Sadie’s quest to understand what’s happening in her house, heralding the film’s most visually impressive action-heavy sequence.

Marin Ireland Boogeyman

Marin Ireland as Rita Billings in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOOGEYMAN. Photo by Patti Perret. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

From there, The Boogeyman struggles to bring a thematically light story to a satisfying conclusion. A frightening foe gets reduced to another grief trauma metaphor thanks to intentionally broad and vague mythology, and the climax’s shaky-cam approach makes it tough to discern what’s happening on screen. As thrilling as the horror can be, the oversimplified story doesn’t offer much beyond connective tissue for the frights.

If you’re only looking for an excuse to sleep with a night light on, The Boogeyman offers a plethora of well-executed scares that linger. Savage and the talented cast take these characters with a severe seriousness that makes for an overly somber affair packed with goosebump-inducing chills. It’s the scares that audiences will remember most, though, as the barebones setup doesn’t build upon its core concept or forge new ground. Savage nails the fear, but the filmmaker also succeeds a little too well in making his titular monster a vague avatar for viewers to graft their personal fears onto; the effective build-up culminates in a potent but generic nightmare.

The Boogeyman releases in theaters on June 2, 2023.

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