The Boogeyman


Reviewed by: Andrew Robertson

The Boogeyman
"Traditions include what might be monstrous punishment for moral failings, suspect chronology, a muddy line between those who may and may not deserve it, and a cavalier disregard for common sense."

There are (at time of press) more than 60 feature-length filmed adaptations of Stephen King's works intended for cinematic release. That's without counting television adaptations, works currently in production, or short films. Perhaps the kindest thing I can say about The Boogeyman is that it's one of them.

The short films include two previous versions of this story with the same title. One from 2014 by Bobby Easley, a genre director/actor himself. His later adaptations include HP Lovecraft's Witch House where he played (the voice of?) a Doctor's Office. Another from 2010 by Gerard Lough, part of a career perhaps more notable for music videos. A similarly titled film by Stephen Kay drops the definite article and claims no direct inspiration. Perhaps as well, as while he's helmed a lot of episodes for prestige TV the reward for his late Nineties Beat-generation film The Last Time I Committed Suicide was not to work with Keanu Reeves, Adrien Brody, or Claire Forlani again but to direct Sylvester Stallone in Get Carter (2000). Peter Sullivan's Cucuy: The Boogeyman is an outpost in a truly staggering TV-movie career. He's directed at least a dozen films with Christmas in the title, with the odd break for crime thrillers, horror movies, and, crossing the streams, a Casper Van Dien vehicle called Christmas Twister.

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Any or all of those are probably more interesting than The Boogeyman. So relentlessly formulaic that it abandons the twist of the original short story and squanders it to, one would think, set up an even more disappointing sequel. The bones of the original story are here, but plenty of cooks have been at the broth. Scott Beck and Bryan Woods have screen story and screenplay credits. They penned A Quiet Place and its sequel, as well as dinosaur-em-up 65. There's also a credit for Mark Heyman who scribed Black Swan, co-wrote bleak comedy The Skeleton Twins, and dramatised the ludicrously true story of rocket scientist and Crowley-occultist Jack Parsons. I can't know for sure if any of them have seen Predator, but I have, so a suggestion that if something leaks fluid it can be rendered dead seemed familiar. That liquid supposition makes for thin gruel.

Director Rob Savage did Host and Dashcam, and if you've seen those you'll recognise moments taken from them as online videos within this. The diegesis includes soundtrack that drops in and out with earbuds, but that too feels familiar. Chekhov's been to the store for some paint thinners, and small movements aside might have had some assistance from Oliver Assayas' Personal Shopper.

When I wasn't looking at doors, and there's a few of those, I was thinking of other films. Antlers has similar genesis, even creature design. Rec is getting on a bit, but still grabs. Though produced by Sony and featuring the word Playstation several times, it does seem weird that the featured videogame The Pathless isn't a platform exclusive. Stranger Things is frequently referenced, but none of its inversions or subversions are well borrowed. Having mentioned Predator, I also thought about Pitch Black, and in the process failing systems.

There are several moments where having established the speed and quantity of police response, you'd expect them to turn up again. There are several places where, even in grief, Chris Messina's Will Harper seems negligent as both a parent and therapist. As his kids (dead mom, naturally) both Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair turn in good performances, but some of the shaky emoting in dark rooms they're asked to do felt dated before they were born. The nature of bullying high school girls is one frequently explored (and better) in King's oeuvre, and whether it's locker or suicide cupboard it feels less well-handled than well-trodden.

Those lighting the film have had plenty of legwork, Eli Born even manages to make a good use of in-camera stuff in the form of a moon globe that's readily found online and a flashing red box that's come from the "no you are definitely in a horror movie" aisle of suspect medical devices. In between dark darks and blue-tinged lights it relies on shadow to hide its monster before giving up on mystery and originality. Plenty of scenes appear to have been graded to a flatness that'd seem more suitable for paving than passion. Maintaining tension at least for a bit, it's got a requisite quantity of jump scares, traditionally deployed.

Those traditions include what might be monstrous punishment for moral failings, suspect chronology, a muddy line between those who may and may not deserve it, and a cavalier disregard for common sense. As creature features go audiences are not exactly hand to mouth, and The Boogeyman is stereotypically slim in its pickings. A scene under a freeway overpass feels like a dolly zoom was considered too complicated, and instead a pivot to a dutch angle makes one think of Michael Bay but fallen off the back of a lorry and not righted.

King's work has been adapted by a lunatic cavalcade of auteurs. Kubrick, of course, Cronenberg, Carpenter, Darabont, De Palma, Reiner, Romero, Singer, Wimmer, King himself (but on cocaine). All of them brought something to their versions, and it's that opportunity that means there's hope yet for upcoming ones by Edgar Wright or Paul Greengrass or André Øvredal or Lynne Ramsay.

It's not that Savage's work here is bad. It's just that in a canon this large some rounds won't be up to calibre. There's the odd soupcon of suspense, but it's as a wet crouton. Starting stale, reheated, any bite it might have had is lost, and only the hungriest of audiences will find it in any way satisfying.

Reviewed on: 29 May 2023
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The Boogeyman packshot
A troubled man talks to a psychiatrist about the 'murders' of his three young children, describing the events of the past several years. His first two children died mysteriously of apparently unrelated causes when left alone in their bedrooms. Their closet doors were found slightly ajar.
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Director: Rob Savage

Writer: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Mark Heyman

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

Year: 2023

Runtime: 98 minutes

Country: US, Canada


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