There is perhaps no horror author more prolific or more successful than Stephen King. And if he’s not #1, the list above him is a short one. And one consequence of that extended and sustained success is having many of your written works adapted into movies. Carrie, The Shining, Misery, It, the list goes on and on. The adaptations run the gamut on quality, from iconic to complete dumpster fires. Just because the source material is good doesn’t mean the film version will be. Thankfully, though, we don’t have to worry about that with The Boogeyman.
Based on King’s 1973 short story of the same name, The Boogeyman stars Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair as sisters Sadie and Sawyer, with Chris Messina as their father, Will. The movie picks up about a month after their mother died in a car accident. They’re of course still reeling and trying to find a way to move on. Sadie and and Sawyer are going back to school, and Will, a psychiatrist, is seeing patients out of his in-home office.
It’s not a smooth adjustment, and things are only about to get worse. A man, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), arrives seeking Will’s help. Unwittingly or not, he brings with him an evil entity that survives by preying on the suffering of its vulnerable victims. This evil now has its sights set on three new victims.
Grief is at the forefront of The Boogeyman. It’s what’s driving a wedge between Will and his daughters. It’s what compelled Lester to seek out Will’s help. Grief is what the titular monster feeds on. The characters’ grief, and how they’re coping – or not coping – is present throughout the film. And while the parallels are obvious, it doesn’t make them any less effective. It’s something everyone can relate to, so each and every person in the audience will bring their own personal experiences into the movie. It makes for an easier emotional connection, the type of connection that is key for any movie with this subject matter.
But even with the metaphors working, it’s also the one aspect where The Boogeyman falters. It doesn’t take too strong of a stance on what it’s trying to say. While I can appreciate a movie leaving some things up to the audience’s interpretation, the story felt like it was setting up to say…something. But then it never did. This was especially felt in the ending, which was too on the nose, too boilerplate. However, looking at the big picture, this isn’t that big of a complaint, with how well done the rest of the movie is.
The best thing The Boogeyman does is build tension. It’s a masterclass in that aspect. It grips you from the opening scene and never lets go. Once it started, I never felt comfortable until the credits started to roll. Sure, it maybe didn’t make for a fun theater experience, but that’s exactly what I want out of a movie like this. It doesn’t get by on cheap jump scares or excessive gore. Build tension through the score, atmosphere, setting. Release it just a touch before ratcheting it up again.
In that same vein, it uses its PG-13 rating perfectly. There’s not much gore or violence, because there can’t be. It forces director Rob Savage to be a little bit more creative with how he’s going to scare and unease his audience. Some PG-13 movies, horror and otherwise, end up feeling like something is missing by not being rated R. Not The Boogeyman. I think the tone struck here was perfect, and maybe would have gotten lost had they gone for the R rating.
The three main actors were all asked to do quite a bit, especially Thatcher and Blair, and they all rose to the occasion. We don’t see a lot of the monster – another really effective creative choice – so we’re often reliant on their reactions and emotions to convey tension and tone. If you’re a Yellowjackets fan (which you should be), it’s no surprise that Thatcher kills it. But Blair might be the MVP. Kid actors are always a wild card. Most of the time you’re just hoping they can hold serve. Blair does more than that, matching Thatcher every step of the way.
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Grief is the major theme in The Boogeyman, and for the most part it conveys that effectively, but I would have liked a little bit more. But everything else is so well done, it’s hard to hold that too strongly against it. The way it builds tension in every scene is beyond impressive and is the biggest factor in how good the movie is. Be prepared to be gripping your seat for 100 minutes.
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