PLOT: A grieving family is haunted by an evil entity that preys on the suffering of others.
REVIEW: While all of the headlines out of this year’s CinemaCon were about Warner Bros showing The Flash to the assembled press and exhibitors, it wasn’t the only screening of a movie the studios were hot on. Disney used the event to give us all a look at The Boogeyman, a horror flick by director Rob Savage (Dashcam, Host), which was initially set for Hulu. The movie turned out so well and was received so positively at test screenings the studio pivoted to a theatrical release, given how well recent movies that nearly went to streaming have done, including Smile and the studio’s own Barbarian.
While The Boogeyman, based on the Stephen King short story, is ultimately too mild to become a cult classic like Barbarian or a viral sensation like Smile, it’s still an effectively made PG-13 horror movie anchored by some likable performances. The short story is used as a jumping-off point, with A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (along with Mark Heyman) building out the concept to make a horror movie that delves deep into grief.
If you like the short story, it’s acknowledged here with David Dastmalchian playing the story’s Lester Billings (although a more likeable version who, unlike his counterpart on the page, isn’t racist or homophobic). As in the short story, he tells his psychiatrist about how his children died mysteriously, and the premise of the film is that he passes his family curse of the malevolent Boogeyman to Chris Messina’s psychiatrist, Will Harper, who just lost his wife in an accident.
The movie is centred around Yellowjackets‘ Sophie Thatcher, who plays his oldest daughter, Sadie, who becomes a defacto surrogate parent to her younger sister, Sawyer (played by Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s Vivien Lyra Blair). While Will is a psychiatrist, he’s completely shut himself off emotionally, leaving Sadie to pick up the pieces, and it’s their grief that makes them susceptible to the Boogeyman, who’s an evil entity that seems primed to kick off a new franchise for 20th Century Studios.
While the PG-13 means you shouldn’t expect any huge, gory shocks, director Rob Savage still manages to build a lot of tension. One thing he does, which is commendable, is that he avoids too many cheap jump scares, which are a tactic too many modern horror movies rely on. While that might make the film feel low-key to some, he has enough faith in his material and actors to give the movie a classier feel. It feels like it was conceived for theatres, with it well-shot by Eli Born, who was also the DP on Hulu’s Hellraiser. It’s dark but not in an overly oppressive way, meaning you can see what’s going on – when they want you to, that is.
If it lacks a lot of big scares, it makes up for it with the acting. While Chris Messina’s part feels ultimately too passive and wishy-washy, until the last act, Thatcher does a really good job carrying her first big movie. Like on Yellowjackets, she’s empathetic and stretches a bit. On that show, she’s a rebel, but here, she’s just a nice girl trying to do the best for her family, but, out of necessity, she becomes a badass. The strongest aspect is her maternal relationship with her younger sister, Sawyer, and her devotion to her sibling makes her a character you can root for. Marin Ireland also has a good role as Lester’s wife, who’s been left to tangle with the Boogeyman on her own and is the one Sawyer turns to for help. Dastmalchian’s role is small, but it’s good, against-type casting for him. Because he almost always plays bad guys, you expect Lester to be a red-herring, but he’s ultimately very sympathetic.
Ultimately, The Boogeyman is a perfectly serviceable horror movie geared primarily at teen audiences. While it’s probably too mild to really appeal to hardcore fans, it seems primed to do big business and could kick off a franchise. If you like your horror on the lower-key side, this is worth checking out in theatres.