‘The Boogeyman’ Review: Stephen King’s Classic Short Story Expands Into Effectively Dark Psychological Horror Film Focusing On Loss And Grief

If the title feels familiar you would not be wrong. The word “boogeyman” has been the subject of numerous movies all using the same moniker, at least ten on iMDB database before I stopped counting, but all of them dated post 1973 when the horror master Stephen King first published his 8-page short story in a magazine, followed five years later by its inclusion in one of his classic short story collections, “Night Shift”. So in one form or another this now 50 year old tale has become shorthand for lots of Hollywood concoctions that had nothing to do with it, but hey a good title is a good title.

King’s “The Boogeyman” was basically a two hander between a disturbed patient and his therapist who indeed turned out to be his boogeyman. It was actually shot as a short by some entertprising filmmakers in 2012, but clearly there was not enough there to make a full length feature. Screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place) cracked the code by using King’s set up as a starting point for the grief-filled family of the therapist, all reeling, following the death of their wife and mother in a car crash. Writer Mark Heyman came in along with director Rob Savage to further shape this expansion, and so calling it Stephen King’s The Boogeyman would be out of the question. It is as if King provided the match for others to actually light the fireworks.

In a era when too much isn’t enough in terms of basic thrills for today’s horror audiences, Savage and his team’s treatment here is, until the last act, more in line with classic psychological and chilling “horror” movies like 1961’s The Innocents and Robert Wise’s 1963 version of The Haunting. It begins as that much troubled man, Lester (David Dastmalchian) visits therapist Will Harper (Chris Messina) in his home office, a vintage home by the way that seems tailor made for the terror to come. He tells of his torture over being accused of killing his three children, something he says he is innocent of but nevertheless obviously consumed with. It is an awkward conversation, and this guy is creepy, but while he is there things start to go bump in the night. Whatever demons he has brought with him are beginning to do their thing. This particularly freaks out Will’s daughters, 16 year old Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and 11 year old Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair). And though dad is a trained therapist, his own grief keeps him from effectively dealing with that of the girls, the “boogeyman” standing in as symbol of their constant pain.

Storywise Sadie takes the reins, even, and of course in pure horror movie fashion, going to Lester’s somewhat deserted and scary home where she is confronted by his wife Rita ( a perfect Marin Ireland) who gives her the frightening 411 on things as she sees it, and some sage advice on the boogeyman she really should take. Things heat up and go out of control as the tight 98 minute running time moves along, eventually to a payoff modern fans might welcome as the heretofore undefined “boogeyman” becomes, well, defined.

Personally I wish this film had the courage of its own convictions, and King’s story, and left it more to our imagnination. After all we all have opened that bedroom closet and seen variations of the boogeyman in our minds. That would not be good enough sadly for today’s crowd that demand visceral satisfaction in this genre and the special effects team does their best, but it is the weakest aspect of Savage’s film which is so darkly lit you may have to strain your eyes to make stuff out. Eli Born is the cinematographer here. Jeremy Woodward’s production design also does much to set the table for some frights, as does the sound team’s work designed to make us jump at the right spots. Overall this is a fine entry into the overrun genre so I hope people show up.

The actors do fine, but Thatcher and Blair stand out. LisaGay Hamilton and Madision Hu round out the cast. Producers are the 21 Laps team of Shawn Levy, Dan Levine, and Dan Cohen. Disney will be releasing the 20th Century Studios film in theatres Friday after abandoning, smartly, original plans to go straight to streaming on HULU. Horror films and comedies work best in theatres where you can share the experience with a bunch of strangers either screaming or laughing – or both. The studio even had such confidence in The Boogeyman as a theatrical attraction, they showed the whole thing in April to exhibitors at their CinemaCOn convention in Vegas where I saw it.

Title: The Boogeyman

Distributor: 20th Century Studios (Thur Disney)

Release Date: June 2, 2023

Director: Rob Savage

Screenplay: Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, Mark Heyman

Cast: Chris Messina, Sophie Thatcher, Vivien Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, LisaGay Hamilton, David Dastmalchian

Rating: PG13

Running Time: 1 hour and 38 minutes


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