A grieving family find themselves terrorised by a supernatural monster in Rob Savage’s jump to big studio horror.
Stephen King’s 1975 short story The Boogeyman blurs the psychological and the supernatural. Unfolding entirely within the confines of a psychiatrist’s office, it purports to be the story that distraught patient Lester Billings tells about his three children’s deaths – and while Lester insists that they were all killed at the hands, or more precisely claws, of a creature that would emerge at night from the closet, from the consulting couch this distraught narrator also reveals his own racism, sexism, cruel attitudes towards childrearing and propensity to violence, enabling his story to be read in two different ways – even if, in the end, the monster will come out once more for Lester himself.
Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman’s very free adaptation of King’s story lets us know from the start that there is a supernatural monster, revealed through the sound of its strange, human-aping voice (courtesy of Daniel Hagen) and occasional glimpses of its shadow and claws, as cinematographer Eli Born’s camera pans in a circle around a bedroom, capturing only in impressionistic passing the creature’s fatal attack on an audibly terrified toddler.
From this harrowing sequence, there is a cut to the Harper family – teenage daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and the much younger Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), both reeling from the recent death of their mother in a car accident, and their father Will (Chris Messina), who though a psychologist himself, has been unable to open up about his own feelings of loss.
This domicile, already filled with dark, emotionally fraught thoughts, will soon be visited by the haunted, similarly grieving Lester (David Dastmalchian), whose child was killed in the opening scene – and he will bring with him not just his own unnerving narrative, but something more tangible that takes up residence in the damaged home, looking to feed on a new family’s dysfunction and pain.
Photophobic like the monsters from David Twohy’s Pitch Black, Robert Harmo’s They, Troy Nixey’s Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Brad Anderson’s Vanishing on 7th Street, this creature quickly inhabits the dark closets, the shadows under the bed, the ill-lit basement – all spaces associated equally with a child’s primal fears and with family repressions. Which is to say that while The Boogeyman is certainly a creature feature (and a ghost story) with all the tropes and trappings of horror, it is also, unquestionably, a psychodrama, tracking this beleaguered family’s desperate quest to confront their demons, both personal and shared, and to reemerge into the light.
Here director Rob Savage abandons the trademark screen-life experimentation and polarising political tensions of his earlier features Host and Dashcam, instead making his first foray into the ‘domestic’ market of mainstream studio horror. Savage taps right into all this household’s uncanny interiors, exploiting every gloomy nook and cranny to suggest, and increasingly to show, a monstrous presence that both preys on and incarnates the destructive negativity plaguing the Harpers. For all its conventionality, The Boogeyman is deftly done, its child-focused stakes are never less than alarming, and its ending, ambiguous and closeted, rings true.
Published 30 May 2023
Love Rob Savage’s Host and Dashcam.
This is conventional studio horror…
…but harrowing and emotionally intelligent.