Maybe the Stephen King-renaissance from several years ago has slowed a bit. Last year’s Mr. Harrigan’s Phone didn’t impress fans or critics when it debuted on Netflix. No one seems to know what happened to the Salem’s Lot remake other than it has been indefinitely delayed. But King is indisputable ‘Master of Horror’ and his vast library of novels, novellas, and short stories is just too much for Hollywood to pass over for long. This time 20th Century Studios is dipping into the author’s early output, dusting off the 1973 short story, The Boogeyman. Stephen King and childhood fears should be a recipe for nightmares, but critics are divided over The Boogeyman.
The movie follows the Harper family; father Will Harper (Chris Messina), a psychiatrist, is trying to solo parent his teenage daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and elementary-age daughter Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) following the sudden death of their mother. Will has, as yet, been unable to open up to Sadie about his feelings, leaving her to mostly cope alone. One day, a disturbed man named Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) comes into Harper’s home office and wants to tell him about the deaths of his children, seemingly at the hands of an unseen shadow force.
The Boogeyman Is Often Creepy But Never Quite Finds a Consistently Scary Groove
A few years ago director Rob Savage launched himself into the horror-sphere with Host, a chilling found-footage filmed completely over Zoom in the early days of the pandemic. Shortly thereafter, Savage’s follow-up Dashcam left something to be desired. With The Boogeyman, Savage leaves found-footage behind for what’s essentially a straightforward Hollywood-produced horror move. Yes, there’s plenty of effective set-ups and scares here. Whether it’s a young child peering underneath their bed or rolling a light-up orb down a dark hallway, Savage shows plenty of innovation. And The Boogeyman boasts the best mix of a videogame console and suspense since Paranormal Activity 4.
Yes, there’s plenty of effective set-ups and scares here.
Yet there’s something that is off about The Boogeyman. Savage orchestrates the ‘potential’ for great jumps, but he relies far too heavily on ‘loud noises’. At times, The Boogeyman recalls other PG-13 chillers, particularly Lights Out, while never achieving the same levels of genuine scares. That is, it always feels like there was a better jump in any one moment that’s gone unfulfilled. In truth, Savage gets the most mileage out of the material in the opening scenes when he’s squeezing tensions out of King’s source material. From that point onward, as the thriller takes its own path, pacing becomes an issue as there are often moments that drag.
The Boogeyman Forgets What Fears Haunt Children’s Nightmares
One of the major problems that becomes increasingly apparent is the titular monster itself. What made the film adaptation of Stephen King’s It so scary was director Andy Muschietti’s understanding of primal childhood fears. Comparatively, Savage and The Boogeyman use a CGI-created monster that’s more reminiscent of the monsters from A Quiet Place. Occasionally, Savage remembers what children find scary but too often he relies on ‘big’ CGI-infused moments that are never convincing. Somewhere in this thriller is a reminder that less is usually more, especially for horror.
Occasionally, Savage remembers what children find scary but too often he relies on ‘big’ CGI-infused moments that are never convincing.
For some reason three screenwriters were needed to translate King’s short story to the big screen. Two of the screenwriters, Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, have some impressive horror credentials (Haunt, A Quiet Place, 65). Sadly, they’re not able to come up with much more than standard ‘tragic family’ tropes that make the movie’s quieter moments feel derivative. And despite both writers having some experience penning monster movies, they struggle to set consistent rules for their night stalker. If the scares are middling, however, Sophie Thatcher (Yellowjackets) reminds audiences that’s an up-and-coming star to keep an eye on. And Chris Messina (Devil) gets more mileage than his character offers.
The Boogeyman Joins a Long List of Middling Stephen King Adaptations
Despite a premise that should be rich in scares, The Boogeyman is a just sort of ‘there’ horror movie. Taking King’s short story and using as a leaping pad proves to be too much for the trio of writers. For the remaining 70 minutes or so, the writers fill in the blanks with a derivative tragic family backdrop, a convoluted monster story, and a few lapses in logic. All of the performances are strong. Savage also sets up several suspenseful scenes but never slows things down enough to let the scares really soak in. Instead of focusing on what fuels childhood fears, Savages makes the Hollywood horror mistake of ‘bigger is better’ with a …