'The Boogeyman' Takes Extreme Liberties with Stephen King

Directed by Rob Savage

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

Photo: Patti Perret

BY Rachel HoPublished Jun 2, 2023

Fair warning to Stephen King fans: The Boogeyman pretty much only uses the source material for the first 20 minutes or so of the film (which are perhaps the best 20 minutes of the movie). An adaptation of a King short story, and the first film of director Rob Savage's for which he doesn't receive a writing credit, The Boogeyman doesn't transcend its origins, but it does succeed as a spooky vehicle for younger audiences to understand grief and loss.

In King's The Boogeyman, the story takes place entirely in a therapist's office, where a man describes the circumstances surrounding the deaths of his three young children. The man tells the tale of a monster hiding in the kids' closet who murders them and follows the man around, even when he moves houses. Where King's story ends is when Savage's begins.

After the man, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), recalls the fate of his kids to Dr. Harper (Chris Messina), the therapist is suitably unsettled and calls for assistance in providing Lester with immediate care. Unfortunately for Dr. Harper and his children, high school student Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and young Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), Lester has led the boogeyman straight to them. 

The film, written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman, intertwines the horror monster story with narration on grief as the Harper family adjusts to life without Mrs. Harper, who unexpectedly passed away in a car accident. At times the links conjured up between the two can feel heavy-handed and broad. All told, though, the connections made work, especially within a young adult context. 

Thatcher's Sadie carries the bulk of the weight of the film, delivering the thriller set pieces and the dramatic beats. The young actor does a commendable job on both accounts and turns in a strong performance. Not to be outdone is Blair, who is tremendous as the younger Harper sister with a fear of the dark. With the help of cinematographer Eli Born, Blair recalls many of the eerie children of horror movies past while also capturing the innocence of youth. 

Savage creates a disconcertingly creepy atmosphere throughout, which operates as the chief scare tactic of the film, and some effective jump scares and a wicked monster design go a long way in aiding the tense energy. Ultimately, the film finds its grounding as a story about a family struggling to accept that their mother and wife is gone — daughters who wish they could have said goodbye, and a husband who fears inadequacy as a single father. 

The movie can take itself too seriously at times, teetering closely to becoming a sermon on bereavement with some basic horror tropes to keep things spicy. However, The Boogeyman prevails as an outlet for sorrow and sadness more than anything else, showing audiences that grief can simply be a hunk of burning love.
(20th Century Studios)

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