The Boogeyman Review: A Pleasing, If Familiar Thrill

So many stories in the horror genre revolve around people coming back from the dead. But in this instance, The Boogeyman itself came back from the dead. Originally slated for a Hulu release, favorable test screenings and a rave from Stephen King (writer of the original short story) pushed Disney to put the film back in theaters. The House of Mouse saw an opportunity to take advantage of the horror movie market and went for it. With the previous success of Evil Dead RiseSmile, and Barbarian, there’s never been a better time to stick this movie in theatres. We have more options than our screens at home. And people remember that they love being scared with a big audience again.

Director Rob Savage knows a little something about that. His low-budget film Host thrilled captive COVID audiences with a Zoom-shot seance that felt much more polished than it had a right to. Despite the same filmmaking limitations of UnfriendedHost hints at an expansive emotional and physical world outside the frame. The script, adapted from King, is a hybrid from A Quiet Place duo Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman (Black Swan). The story is not the backbone of The Boogeyman, however. Nothing about the premise is particularly unique, the draw lies in the atmosphere and Savage’s technique of hiding things right before our eyes.

After losing their mother in a tragic car accident, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher, check out our interview here) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) feel a creeping presence in their home. That dread compounds with the arrival of Dr. Will Harper’s (Chris Messina) new client. Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) unsettles the good doctor immediately, recounting the loss of his young children. While Dr. Harper fails to deal with his wife’s loss, Lester sits in front of him, a perfect foil. “It’s the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention,” he says. While Lester refers to the things that bump in the night, it could apply to all threats kids face; bullies, predators, etc. Without turning capital-T trauma into the villain of the piece, The Boogeyman acknowledges the things that grab our focus and what deserves attention are seldom the same. It’s a warning to Dr. Harper. One he can’t ignore.

Each member of the Harper household is struggling. Sadie withdraws from everyone around her, Sawyer won’t sleep in the dark anymore, and Will can’t focus on anything but his work. Grief is an individualized process, one that Will should know very well. But with all the Harpers leaving the others to fend for themselves, an entity feeds on that pain and grows stronger.

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Dr. Harper’s knowledge is too clinical, too based on fact, to reassure Sadie and Sawyer. The dark is only a projection of your mind, he tells them. Yet we have good reason to be afraid of the dark. An atavistic fear passed down from our ancestors’ days of wondering what eyes might come in from the tall grasses and kill us where we sleep. The dark preys on our irrepressible thoughts that something invisible stalks us when we’re alone in our homes. Unfortunately, that’s also the drawback of The Boogeyman. If the paranormal can only get you when it’s pitch-black, you wouldn’t endanger yourself in the dark. Still, characters search every dark corner despite the danger it puts them in. They ignore broken lights, or people can’t be bothered to turn them on. A blackout (or a similar workaround) could’ve solved those issues.

Despite audience disbelief arising from those stumbles, Savage displays a good sense of pacing. He allows a rhythmic build-up and release of tension. Too many horror films are satisfied to hammer home scares repeatedly without a moment to breathe. The Boogeyman paces itself, allowing a much richer experience for the craft that goes into jumpscares. If you’ve seen the trailer, you know the highlight of the film, which features Sawyer playing with an illuminated ball in bed, unaware a terrifying creature is just underneath her. Savage uses the juxtaposition of light and dark to create jump scares without throwing something into the frame or blaring high-pitched noise. 2016’s Lights Out used similar concepts to terrify its audience.

Light is used as a weapon in the film. Savage places characters prominently and forcing the audience to guess where the creature is in the periphery. Fortunately, Savage works around the lighting issue with red light exposure and scenes with only Christmas lights as illumination. Part of that is ingenuity and also based on necessity. The creature design is strong though a little disappointing in full light. Shrouded in darkness, the antagonist is horrifying, partially heightened by our imagination.

Chris Messina reminded everyone of his skills as a supporting actor in Air. He is serviceable here but limited somewhat by the horror dad cliché. Grieving characters come across as stiff, rendering audience identification difficult. But that’s okay because Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair are the true leads, carrying the film on their backs. Thatcher and Blair broke out on the small screen, in Yellowjackets and Obi-Wan Kenobi, respectively. Both actresses prove those performances aren’t one-offs. Thatcher is engaging even when the material is thin, while Blair sells the wide-eyed terror she’s placed in. The onscreen dynamic between the older and younger sister is naturalistic, lending authenticity to the film when things get surreal.

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The Boogeyman almost became straight-to-streaming fodder, but we lucked out. The film doesn’t ask for much in terms of time or commitment and is well-acted and executed. Sometimes a 90-minute roller coaster ride is just the ticket amidst the exhausting franchise mania.

 

The Boogeyman is now playing in theatres.



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