20th Century Reviews

‘The Boogeyman’ Review: A Familiar Fear

No matter how old you get, there’s always a part of you that wonders if something is staring back at you in the dark. It may not scare you, but it doesn’t have to. Think about it long enough and you’ll scare yourself. Now, Twentieth Century Studios’ latest horror film The Boogeyman takes that dormant dread, but asks what if that something wasn’t just watching you? What if wanted to devour you too?

Based on the Stephen King novella of the same name, the film follows a widower and his two daughters as they grieve the recent death of their matriarch. Chris Messina delivers a solid performance as the disconnected father, Will, and that detachment is amplified by the fact that he’s a therapist. Although he listens to his patients’ problems unbiased, he’s also clearly become out of touch with his own emotions. As a result there is no boundary between the person he is at work and the person he is at home. That’s further underlined by the fact that he works from home.

One day, a new patient arrives begging to speak to Will. Having learned of his wife’s recent passing, he believes that Will might understand how he feels. He claims that all of his children have been killed by a creature that lurks in the dark, waiting when you’re “not paying attention.” While the audience knows that the man is telling the truth thanks to a chilling opening sequence, Will does not and decides to step away to make a quick phone call. As he not-so-subtilely calls the cops, the mysterious patient dies.

When cops arrive, the death is dubbed a suicide. But as Will and his daughters come to find out, it was not only a murder at the hands of a dark entity. It was that same entity’s opportunity to latch onto their pain.

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Now, the movie lives up to its title for its effortless ability to terrify you. Where most other horror entries are satisfied with delivering basic jump scares, director Rob Savage is all about jump sequences. Rather than give the audience a quick jolt, he cleverly builds up tension and toys with your anxiety before delivering that final blow. For example, early on it’s established that the youngest daughter has a loose tooth. When the oldest tries to remove it by hooking it up to a door and slamming it, that’s when Savage really starts to have fun.

It’s no surprise Savage is so good with scares considering that he’s the same director behind the pandemic-themed horror phenomenon that captivated every cinephile in quarantine, Host. And while this film isn’t nearly as tight or timely, it’s just as engaging. Unlike his predecessor, there’s an underlying story about the power grief can hold over people. And those touching overtones are made tangible by both actresses who play the daughters, Sadie and Sawyer, Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair respectively.

Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOOGEYMAN. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Once the story takes off and the titular entity arrives Sadie quickly becomes the lead of the film. Although her character who has become introverted as a result of her loss, Thatcher ensures you always feel what she’s going through. For a film with only 3 main characters who are all experiencing loneliness individually, her expressiveness makes her easy to empathize with. There’s an entire sequence where she’s going through her mom’s belongings in the family’s basement, and you can tell how badly she wants just one more moment with her.

Blair, who many will recognize from Lucasfilm’s Obi-Wan Kenobi series, is equally as expressive as Sawyer. But what really makes her performance enjoyable is her character’s journey. Granted there is nothing original about a creature feature told from the perspective of a child, but the way in which Sawyer goes from being the only one who sees it to being the most prepared when it’s time to finally face it is great.

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One technical thing worth noting (and appreciating) is that many of the moments where her character comes in contact with the monster the camera is set up from a lower angle looking up to make it feel like we’re in her shoes. It’s another testament to how thoughtful filmmaker Savage is.

Now, the only major con in the film is Chris Messina’s character. Not his performance, but his actual character. Throughout so much of this film he is nowhere to be found. In fact, with the exception of one sequence, every time his daughters are terrorized by the creature he is missing in action. While you could argue that his character is probably off at work distracting himself from his loss, as previously mentioned, he works from home! Still, at all hours of the day he is just never there. It goes back to what his mysterious patient says about “not paying attention.” The ironic part is that his absence is so noticeable it distracts you from paying attention because most of the time you’re asking yourself why the dad isn’t also experiencing the Boogeyman.

As mentioned earlier, the film isn’t entirely original either. In fact, if you’ve seen any horror film where there’s something lurking in the dark (Darkness Falls and Lights Out are the two most contemporary that come to mind) much of this will feel familiar. But the style in which the story is told and the compelling characters that guide through that darkness are truly what make this horror film shine.

Prior to a test screening in December, The Boogeyman was slated to be a streaming release exclusive to Hulu. While it’s hard to say for certain if it should have stayed that way, it doesn’t change the fact the film is good. Will it go down as one of the best Stephen King adaptations? Time can only tell, but it might go down as one of the scariest. That alone should tell you that it’s a worthwhile watch.

The Boogeyman hits theaters this Friday.

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