Sometimes scary is enough. Granted, I’ve seen enough horror films in my lifetime to have all the formulas understood, making it hard for these genre flicks, especially studio efforts, to really get to me. Still, the visceral thrill of a little girl daring to explore the darkest corners of her room can provide enough of what’s needed to provoke a response. The Boogeyman is not relying on new tricks to deliver the goods. In fact, it’s not hard to think of the many movies that have come before it that operate similarly and with better results. Still, even with a lack of more distinctive details, there’s enough working in this film’s favor to allow the audience to pay attention when things go bump in the night.
Based on a short story by Stephen King, first published back in 1973, this story centers around the Harper family. The mother has recently died in a car accident, leaving the others to deal with their grief. Oldest daughter, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), has just returned to high school. The younger daughter, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), worries about monsters in her closet. And Will (Chris Messina), the dad, is attempting to keep a straight face while working at home as a therapist.
Again, it’s not new to see this kind of setup. While it’s been the fuel for many horror films, trauma has become a more notable theme to point out, specifically among those who want to downplay liking horror movies by associating with the ones they deem elevated. I can’t speak to this form of genre segregation (still waiting to hear more about elevated action and comedy), but I can say The Boogeyman does the work in setting things in motion by way of character work.
The actual plot kicks into gear when an unannounced patient arrives at the Harper home to speak with Will. This person is Lester (David Dastmalchian), who claims that his children were all killed by some sort of supernatural monster. Well, he doesn’t exactly say this, but he hands over enough information that Will can ignore, before dramatically exiting the picture. Of course, while Dad is skeptical, the daughters soon find themselves stalked by something lurking in the shadows and growing stronger by feeding on how they have suffered.
While I would have liked to see what transpires in the original short, based on the low-key setup and a fun/spooky idea for an ending, I’ll give credit where it’s due here. Adapted by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (of A Quiet Place fame), along with Mark Heyman, enough is done to keep me on my toes rather than worrying about the rules surrounding this monster. I always seem to find that an intriguing aspect to consider, as you want to know the filmmakers get how this thing works, even if it’s not always spelled out entirely. The Boogeyman is doing enough for this thing to make sense to me, which works in its favor.
When dealing with the scary stuff, which generally takes place at night, and in the dark, this is a studio movie that capitalizes on having the means to deliver a new creation in a compelling enough way. Whether or not the eventual reveal of how this thing looks will be the thing of nightmares, the build-up to it does a fine job of keeping the viewer in the lurch of what they are really seeing, let alone what to expect from some glowy-eyed demon that climbs on walls and leaves rot on the ceilings.
Jump scares are utilized well enough without coming off as cheap. It’s clear director Rob Savage (Host) has seen plenty of horror films in his day, as he’s clearly wanting to juggle the fun of being in a movie like this and making sure the drama of the situation still matters amid the many times the audience is being toyed with. That’s also important when considering how much this film focuses on creeping out the audience without submitting to a hefty amount of gore. The Boogeyman may aim for a high intensity, but this PG-13 series of events is not looking to gross anyone out by showing the creature truly snacking on child bodies.
Whether or not that will make or break someone’s desire to see a movie like this, the film still works, thanks to an effort to create genuine tension and the central performances. Thatcher is ostensibly the lead, and she works well in signaling a teenager with more than just general angst. Why this film pads the runtime by sticking her with a few too many obnoxious friends, I don’t know. Similarly, young Blair does well at playing a child that is equally curious and terrified at what sort of threats surround her at a given moment. And the always reliable Messina sports a beard, so you know he’s a sad character, but he also creates a believable parental figure who appears lost.
I don’t need to namecheck certain movies to explain why those may work better. However, that’s not stopping me from acknowledging how solid The Boogeyman is at doing what it needs to work. It creates the proper sense of mood, doesn’t feel like it cheats to get what it’s after, and leaves a lingering sense of dread following a variety of effective scare moments. Plus, I dug the monster these people had to deal with. As far as films that could make younger viewers want to check under their beds to be sure, The Boogeyman does the job of making one want to remind themselves that it’s not real.