Based on Stephen King’s short story featured in the “Night Shift” collection, and adapted for the screen by Mark Heyman, Scott Beck, and Bryan Woods, “The Boogeyman” is not your average monster-under-the-bed chiller. Director Rob Savage (“Host”) effectively builds the horror, using the less-is-more approach, leading up to a thrilling climax that pits a family against the mythic creature that has been used by adults for ages to scare kids into behaving. The modern story feels more like an 80s throwback complete with an eerie atmosphere and real frights.
King’s short, first published in 1973, serves as the starting point for Savage’s screen adaptation which expands the story shifting the focus from one family to another. Chris Messina plays Dr. Will Harper, a therapist who is good at helping everyone but his own family deal with their emotions, especially grief. Will’s wife unexpectedly passed away and his daughters, teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) are having a rough time dealing with their mother’s death. Instead of helping his family deal with the tragedy, Will passes them off to therapist Dr. Weller played by LisaGay Hamilton. From soap operas to television shows and films (including playing Condoleezza Rice in “Vice”) Hamilton is such a wonderful and versatile actress, it’s hard to believe she’s the same actress that played Sheronda in “Jackie Brown.” I would have enjoyed seeing her character, Dr. Weller, play a larger role in the story.
One day a mysterious man named Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), who looks like he just wrapped up an all-nighter at the Goth club, walks into Will’s home office without an appointment. He tells the therapist that if he can’t talk to him then and there, he doesn’t know what he’ll do. Sensing his anxiety and urgency, Will offers to use his free hour to listen to the stranger. He begins telling Will tales about a monster that killed his three children complete with sketches of the thing drawn by his kids. This is the only scene from King’s story as the writers shift the focus from the Billings family to the Harpers.
Sawyer is the first to encounter the boogeyman who lurks in the shadows, its glowing eyes piercing the dark. She sleeps with lights on and a glowing sphere, productively used in the story. By the time Sadie encounters the ghastly creature, Savage has caused the audience to sink down lower in their seats thanks to a few frightening moments. These “jump scares” are as real as Ben Gardner’s boat scene in “Jaws” and the moment in “Alien” when Dallas encounters the Xenomorph in the air ducts. Cinematographer Eli Born worked on 2022’s “Hellraiser” and once again he uses light and various angles to deliver a few striking shots.
The modern setting isn’t concerned with modern technology giving “The Boogeyman” an 80s retro feel. Production designer Jeremy Woodward does wonders lighting the dark scenes prevalent in most of the film, setting the chilling tone while giving us glimpses of the terrifying creature. The special effects are CGI, and while I prefer practical effects, the less-is-more technique works to the film’s advantage until the climax where the creature is revealed in all its glory. When we finally see the monster, the darkness and occasional flashes of light are useful in keeping up the mystery, but the scene involving its mouth stretching would have worked better as a practical effect. A couple of the writers worked on John Krasinski’s “A Quiet Place” which feels like an influence based on the creature’s design.
“Yellowjackets” star Sophie Thatcher is great to watch as Sadie who is having the roughest time dealing with the loss of her mother. At the same time, she must contend with “so-called friends” at school, while keeping her little sister safe from the creature.
The cast is solid, Messina is convincing as the skeptical but caring father and Lyra Blair is impressive as the young Sawyer. The film has the most fun in a nostalgic moment featuring shotgun-toting Marin Ireland as the remaining Billings family survivor keeping the creature in check in her decrepit home complete with booby traps and more candles than Sting used to dance around in the video “Wrapped Around Your Finger” by The Police. On a side note, Marin starred in one of the scariest films of I’ve seen in the last few years, the Texas-based 2020 thriller “The Dark and the Wicked” which should be streaming on Shudder.
Speaking of streaming, “The Boogeyman” was originally set for a debut on Hulu, but moving the film to a theatrical release was the smart thing to do. It’s scary, dark, and works way better in a movie theater. “The Boogeyman” will cause you to start sleeping with the lights on.
(3 ½ stars)
Now showing in theaters