The Boogeyman Review | Boo

by Andrew Parker

Suitably atmospheric, but mechanical and uninspired, The Boogeyman won’t surprise anyone that’s watched a horror film in the past fifty years. So low aiming in its goals that it feels like a throwback to the jump-scare packed boo-fests that dragged the genre down during the mid-2000s, The Boogeyman is a film made with a considerable amount of talent and a dearth of new ideas. It goes through the motions with all the vigour of a pop-up book. You know something is going to happen on every page, so there’s little suspense to be found, and any substance to be found is completely beholden to the gimmick. The Boogeyman will be a profound snoozefest for all but the jumpiest, most easily spooked viewers.

Based on a older and considerably lesser short story by horror master Stephen King (originally published in a magazine before finding a wider audience with the 1978 collection Night Shift), The Boogeyman is one of those stories about an already traumatized family dealing with a mysterious haunting of a different sort. Psychiatrist Will Harper (Chris Messina) is once again ready to start seeing patients in his home office following the passing of his wife, and his two daughters – eldest Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and youngest Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair – are heading back to school. One day, a mysterious, distressed man (David Dastmalchian) appears at Will’s doorstep begging for help. The man claims his family has been murdered by some sort of demonic entity. Will is skeptical, but how much do you want to bet that this interaction will lead to his own family being targeted by the same spooky goblin?

Don’t take that bet because the answer should be as obvious as the title of the film. The Boogeyman – a basic title for a basic film – only works if you’re in the absolute perfect state of mind for this thing. If you don’t think that every ominous shadow, pile of clothes that kinda looks like a monster in the dark, bump in the night, or suddenly shutting door is the most terrifying thing to ever happen, The Boogeyman is not for you, and it’s rigid adherence to formula – which, in a backhanded way, is admirable because it picks a tone and actually sticks to it – is something you either love or you don’t.  

There are trips to seemingly abandoned houses, tough talking loners (Marin Ireland) who’ve spent their lives investigating the phenomena at hand, flickering lights, instructional videos on how to contact the dead, creepy patterns on the ceiling that look like encroaching and spreading water damage, and old home movies aplenty in The Boogeyman. There’s also, a boogeyman. Director Rob Savage (Host, Dashcam) knows how to milk uncomfortable silences for all they’re worth (even though the sound mix is distressingly restrained for this type of haunting), and he shows some edge in a willingness to put children directly in harm’s way, but this sort of movie is both out of fashion and has been done better and more creatively in the past. The script from A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods and Black Swan/The Skeleton Twins scribe Mark Heyman is on autopilot throughout, leaving Savage pretty much on his own to figure out ways of making this suspenseful. Savage’s answer seems to be employing every visual horror cliche in the book, which is proof that no one really thought about The Boogeyman all that long and hard.

The cast is quite likeable, with Messina and Thatcher in particular doing all they can to squeeze some drama from this, but the family dynamic at the heart of the script is just as hackneyed as its over reliance on horror movie shorthand. Sadie is having trouble adjusting to life back at school and feels estranged from her friends. Sawyer is a charming young innocent that no one wants to see harmed. Will is a shrink who refuses to see someone of his own profession to cope with his obvious feelings of grief and loss. Stock characters and stock situations add up to a stock movie, no matter how genuine the intent.

The Boogeyman plays like a film that would make someone’s top 100 list of the best wide released horror movies of 2004, and that’s not much of a compliment. It’s resoundingly average and harmless to mostly everyone that will sit through it. In these early days of the summer season, The Boogeyman is probably best suited for a day or night when you’re craving air conditioning and everything you initially wanted to see is sold out.

The Boogeyman opens in theatres everywhere on Friday, June 2, 2023.

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