You’ve gotta have a certain level of confidence to call your scary movie something as silly as The Boogeyman, but thankfully confidence is in abundant supply in this solid slice of horror from director Rob Savage. Savage has more than earned his credentials in the genre with films like Host and Dashcam, and it’s his excellent direction that helps lift The Boogeyman beyond the confines of its overly familiar formula.
Based on one of the oldest short stories by Stephen King (1973 to be exact), this film adaptation is more or less your basic haunted house setup. The Boogeyman 2023 follows the Harper family, still reeling from a recent devastating loss. Will (Chris Messina) is a therapist that is ironically unable to face his own trauma of his wife’s death, and in turn is unable to help his two young daughters deal with theirs. The teenage Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) wears her brooding emotions on her sleeve while her little sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) can’t fully understand but knows enough to be scared, especially since there appears to be some evil entity in her closet that messes with her during the night.
That’s pretty much it - something creeps around the Sawyer home whenever the lights go out and terrorizes the girls while dad remains oblivious / in denial. It’s both a literal and metaphorical monster of some kind, any kind really. You’ve seen this movie before if you’re at least somewhat familiar with horror, which definitely holds The Boogeyman back from greatness, but what we do get is a strong gateway for newcomers to the scene.
A PG-13 rating certainly helps in that regard, and Savage uses the lack of R-rated gore to focus on building a dread-inducing atmosphere that helps make the film genuinely scary where it counts. That feeling of dread is usually my go-to description of what makes King’s writing so effective, so while The Boogeyman’s scares can be predictable, they still very much work. The film wisely holds back on fully revealing its monster until it can make a real impact; an impressive show of restraint considering the design for it is admittedly pretty cool.
Plenty of praise needs to go to the more than capable cast as well. The film focuses on Sadie and her desperate attempts to save her family, and Thatcher’s performance is more than up to the task of carrying the film. The Yellowjackets star is able to sell you on both the fear and the fearlessness of her character, sneaking in a competent coming-of-age story that blends well with the family-centered horror plot.
Savage’s feature-length take on King’s original short shines in its execution. While not particularly innovative and boasting some silly problems like a gang of mean schoolmates that act more ridiculous than anything the evil nightmare monster does, there’s still a very capable style clawing its way above it all. Savage is a filmmaker that's nice and comfy in the horror realm but still clearly hard at work all the same. You’ll care enough about the Sawyer family to make the already-effective scares all that more harrowing, and best of all, the film refreshingly avoids any gratuitous dead mom flashbacks. Definitely have to give props to that decision.
Speaking of smart decisions, The Boogeyman was only recently moved from its original planned release on Hulu to a wide theatrical campaign. 20th Century Studios (now owned by Disney) changed course following some strong test screenings they did in December of last year. It makes perfect sense considering this is an obviously great time up on the big screen with a lively audience. The jump scares are expected but earned; the good kind that have a proper buildup and rhythm that holds your attention throughout.
There’s not much that’s new here but there’s plenty to have fun with and get spooked by. You’ll at least learn that you should always take your kids seriously if both of them start talking about nightly attacks from a demonic grief monster. You definitely don’t want one of those in your house.
‘The Boogeyman’ is now playing in theaters.