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The Boogeyman Review

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The Boogeyman premieres in theaters on June 2, 2023


While Jason Voorhees, Ghostface, and Freddy Krueger have become icons of horror cinema, is there a more famous harbinger of dread than the vague concept of The Boogeyman? Children tucked under blankets shiver at the thought of this fable-like creature behind closet doors or slithering under bed frames; we all feared – or still fear – that Boogie bastard. Rob Savage's job as director of The Boogeyman is to maximize the simplest, most universal of after-dark horror stories from childhood, which he does well enough with a scare-packed albeit formulaic adaptation of Stephen King's short tale about shadow-dwelling demons. At its best The Boogeyman brings the goshdarn spookiness and serves as a reminder that, when done right, PG-13 horror can still be a terrifying experience that'll rattle even horror addicts.

Writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods pull from their horror-forward A Quiet Place scripts that focus on traumatized families fighting ferocious creatures, joining co-writer Mark Heyman to tell the tale of the fractured Harper clan's fight against an unsightly evil. Yellowjackets standout Sophie Thatcher stars as eldest daughter Sadie, who anchors The Boogeyman alongside teeny-tiny little sister Sawyer (played excellently by 10-year-old Vivien Lyra Blair). Thatcher and Blair embrace the unnatural terrors that spring from flung-open closet doors as disturbing figures scamper between patches of blackness, never underselling the powerless feeling of nostalgic childhood paranoias. Chris Messina grows a salt-and-pepper beard to play their psychologist father Will, but isn't much help as his imagination can't fathom a true-to-reality Boogeyman; Thatcher and Blair themselves gas up their Boogeyman foe's scare tactics scene after bloodcurdling scene.

David Dastmalchian makes the most of a few scenes as Lester Billings, a gloomily tragic character from King's original mini-thriller. Same for Marin Ireland as our resident shotgun-cocked Boogeyman-believer who Sadie turns to for advice. Thatcher and Blair are clear stars of The Boogeyman, but it's an all-hands-on-deck effort that helps make the barebones campfire story blueprint seem beefier in appearance. This unsettling urban legend movie hardly rewrites horror history – it's a yummy slice of homestyle horror comforts. Infrequent innovations like Sawyer's illuminated moon orb as a rolling light source are small victories in an otherwise by-the-books excuse to petrify audiences. Expect this one to be a sleepover superhit once it’s released on streaming.

In-your-face jump scares are Mr. Boogey's addictive bread and butter.


Savage doesn't shy away from in-your-face jump scares, which are Mr. Boogey's addictive bread and butter. The Boogeyman does PG-13 horror proud, exploiting familiar bedtime-bumps-in-the-night storytelling for a dependable fright night that'll no doubt get butts flying out of seats. There's nothing provocatively subversive about a Boogeymonster continually lunging from darkness after beady eyes tease its presence, yet there's no lack of high-impact scare executions. Savage validates humanity's collective anxieties surrounding the dark by scaring the literal piss out of Sawyer and Sadie, rarely wasting an opportunity to shred our nerves as nightfall brings another slew of Boogeyman-related nightmares.

Effective as they may be, maybe The Boogeyman is a bit too reliant on jump scares, because its story doesn’t go that deep. Savage parallels David F. Sandberg's textbook-terrifying Lights Out – an earlier exploitation of timeless Boogeyman-adjacent mythology – only Sandberg's story plants deeper roots. This is a movie that operates cleanest as a haunted attraction where siblings are spooked senseless by their live-in tormentor, but less so when addressing trauma responses due to the death of the girls’ mother. "Trauma" is used in a buzzword capacity, complete with the callously cookie-cutter treatment of Sadie by catty high school stereotypes and Will's closed-off reactions at home. The Boogeyman loses minimal steam between righteous scare sequences involving Sawyer's PlayStation gameplay as a light source or a psychologist's red cube that strobes slower by the second, always on top when we're clenching tight at the sight of shadows.

Creature design rises in its importance.


It helps that The Boogeyman entity itself is a crossbreed between a nimble insect with crooked crackles-when-it-crawls appendages and an emaciated human with sunken eyeholes. Creature design rises in its importance in the Harpers' eerily enormous-feeling house, where no one can hear you scamper away from a Boogey attack. There are glimpses where the Boogeyman doesn't look the smoothest in its animation, but Savage uses darkness to minimize these imperfect monster closeups.

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Then the finale hits, and The Boogeyman earns its special-effects applause as frightened kiddies wear flashing Christmas lights as armor against a nocturnal fiend that feels like it would be at home scaling caves in The Descent or evolving from A Quiet Place’s berserkers. There's a keen enough balance to withhold full-body reveals without shelving monster madness until later acts, making sure a camera-shy creature does not rob us of full-throttle defenses against soul-sucking evil.

Verdict

The Boogeyman can be described the same way car salespeople might market their mid-range best sellers: sturdy, dependable, and efficient. “Like a rock,” they’d repeat. Rob Savage once more proves that PG-13 ratings aren’t shackles on filmmakers who want to send their audiences screaming in the other direction, since The Boogeyman is the scariest horror film of the year (so far). But scares aren’t everything, and this familiar trapped-with-a-monster setup can sometimes be its own worst enemy as the story meanders between frightful imagery. Thankfully its cup overfloweth with nightmare fuel, elevating the otherwise-standardized storytelling that doesn’t reach all that far beyond generic outlines of marginally better families-versus-demons showstoppers. The Boogeyman is a capable creepshow built for mass appeal that gets the job done because at the end of the day, scary is as scary does.

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