The Boogeyman Review – A Fairly Forgettable Stephen King Excursion with Precious Little Boogying

British director Rob Savage showed how inventive he is with his pandemic Zoom horror film Host. His ability to create strong visuals is what makes the otherwise thin Stephen King adaptation The Boogeyman worthwhile. Working from an eleven-page short story by King there isn’t a lot going on in the plot which isn’t cobbled together from other horror narratives. As much as the screenwriters Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman try to flesh out the story to give it its own flavour, The Boogeyman is a collage of already well-worn ideas.

It isn’t a terrible sin for a horror film to be derivative – after all how many versions of Dracula have there been? The lack of personality in The Boogeyman is forgivable in a PG-13 horror but when all the thematic and visual cues have been done before (some quite recently) the challenge is to find what will make an audience invest in the movie. Thankfully, there are the excellent performances by Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair as the siblings targeted by the titular Boogeyman. Add to this Savage’s adroit direction and the film has something to offer, albeit nothing new.

Teenager Sadie Harper (Sophie Hatcher) is living with her psychiatrist father Will (Chris Messina) and her ten-year-old sister, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) and trying to come to terms with the recent and sudden death of her mother in a car crash. Sadie is trying to hold on to the memories of her mother, but Will is distant and refuses to engage with her whenever she wants to speak of her grief. Sawyer is also dealing with her loss and a terror of the dark. Instead of acting as a sounding board to his daughters Will sends them to another therapist. The emotional disconnect in the Harper house is made even worse for Sadie as she is alienated and bullied by her peers.

Will takes in an unexpected patient, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), a broken man who is trying to explain that he didn’t kill his daughters as has been presumed, but they were instead stalked by a dark entity that feeds on grief and trauma. While Will calls the authorities to report Lester as being a danger to himself and others, Lester ends up hanged in a closet in the studio belonging to Will’s deceased wife. Lester has passed the “Boogeyman” on to the vulnerable Harper family.

If this all sounds familiar it’s because it is. Last year Parker Finn played with the idea of a trauma demon in Smile. Bullied teens are a horror film staple. Neglectful parents, too. Everything down to the creature design and mould and creeping arterial like vines can be seen in a number of films. What elevates Savage’s work from being a photocopy of other works is how ingenious he is with utilising light and reflections to conjure tension. He also plays into some deep-seated fears that many children have experienced. Of course, one of them is asking a parent to be believed. Sawyer begs Will to believe her (Sadie too until she can no longer deny that something supernatural is going on). Sadie begs Will to listen to her and believe in how she needs to process her mother’s death.

The Boogeyman itself is one of the “relentless monsters who feeds” – we don’t really know where it came from or how long it has been doing what it is doing. The lack of lore behind the ostensible antagonist leaves a gap in the film. All we know is that it doesn’t like light, it is a creature of darkness (metaphor overload is all we get).

There are the jump scares imbedded into this kind of film and the requisite toned down nastiness that will pass the classification board, but nothing speaks of The Boogeyman being anything more than a fairly forgettable horror excursion. Nonetheless, it is an excellent canvas for showing the talents of Savage, Thatcher, and Blair, who despite the meagre offerings of the film display undeniable promise.

Director: Rob Savage

Cast: Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, David Dastmalchian

Writers: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Mark Heyman, (based on the short story by Stephen King)

Nadine Whitney

Nadine Whitney holds qualifications in cinema, literature, cultural studies, education and design. When not writing about film, art or books, she can be found napping and missing her cat.

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