By George Bate & Josh Reilly B.
Grief and trauma are difficult topics to confront in daily living, with horror cinema providing a unique avenue to explore these troubling emotions through complex characters and rich metaphors. The likes of Hereditary, The Descent, and Don’t Look Now have achieved this feat superbly, powerfully delivering messages about bereavement while terrifying audiences to their core. The Boogeyman is the latest film to explore grief in the context of a horror film, but struggles to distinguish itself from other, run-of-the-mill haunted house flicks.
Inspired by Stephen King’s short story of the same name The Boogeyman stars Yellowjackets’ Sophie Thatcher and Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Vivien Lyra Blair as sisters Sadie and Sawyer, who are reeling from the recent death of their mother and the subsequent emotional distance created by their father, a therapist played by The Mindy Project‘s Chris Messina. Things go from bad to worse for the family when a troubled patient, played by David Dastmalchian (Dune, Ant-Man), enters their lives and brings with him a horrifying entity that feeds on suffering.
If that plot description sounds like it lacks a sense of uniqueness that’s because it does. Lacking novelty isn’t necessarily a death sentence for horror films, however, as craftsmanship can shine through and breathe new life into even the most tried-and-tested premises. Unfortunately, this is not the case with The Boogeyman.
The Boogeyman is filled to the brim with familiar beats from similar, better horror films. Spine-tingling jump scares that are commonplace in PG-13 horror feature frequently, while rarely providing the intended thrills and chills. There are plenty of ‘fear of the dark’ scenes in which the lead characters are isolated in a part of their house at night when they are spooked by unnerving sounds and movement in the darkness, all of which culminates in an underwhelming jump scare. There’s nothing particularly wrong with these scenes, but they do little to engage in any meaningful way.
The narrative itself, meanwhile, is similarly derivative. The film’s first act, while not reinventing the genre, manages to hook the audience in with an unsettling performance from David Dastmalchian and a decent set-up for the proceedings that follow. The family at the core of this story are immediately likable, from Vivien Lyra Blair’s witty little sister to Sophie Thatcher’s troubled older sister to Chris Messina’s grieving father. All three deliver heartfelt and compelling performances and manage to elevate an otherwise standard horror film. And, given the characters’ likability, the stakes are higher as the entity continues to terrorize them and the audience is left hoping they end up unscathed. Strong performances aren’t enough to carry the film’s 99 minute runtime, however, as the disjointedly plotted film somewhat unravels eventually.
Again, The Boogeyman is by no means a poor film, just one that desperately requires more substance. That being said, there may be enough here for horror fanatics to look under the bed. Director Rob Savage, with cinematography from Eli Born, craft a number of atmospheric shots and landscapes. The creature design, which is intelligently visible only sparingly for much of the film, is a highlight when it is finally revealed and certainty lives up to the entity described in King’s story. And, as said previously, Thatcher and Blair are simply brilliant and have such promising careers ahead of them.
The Boogeyman has redeemable qualities with heartfelt lead performances from Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair and a decent set-up, but is ultimately an extremely conventional horror film. Themes of grief and trauma at the film’s core are superficially touched upon, while the scares lack novelty and the narrative is disjointed. In sum, The Boogeyman is not a bad horror film, just one that would have benefited greatly from more innovation. Why Stephen King himself found the film to be one of the most effective adaptations of his work is puzzling given how routine it all is.