This Stephen King adaptation should please adult audiences open to PG-13 horror and unafraid of emotional roller coaster rides.
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I liked but didn’t love English director Rob Savage’s adaptation of Stephen King’s 1973 short story “The Boogeyman” (now in theaters). Savage broke out a few years back with Shudder’s found footage COVID-era horror-thriller “Host” and employs much of the same ingenuity to his latest offering.
The Harper family are understandably having a rough go of it after the passing of their matriarch Cara (Shauna Rappold) from a freak car accident. Patriarch Will (Chris Messina) is a therapist working out of their home. His daughters, the teenaged Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and the prepubescent Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, she played little Leia on Disney+’s “Obi-Wan Kenobi”), have taken a hiatus from school to properly grieve their mother, but are on the precipice of returning.
Sadie has troubles readjusting to academia. She’s shunning her best friend Bethany (Madison Hu) and is being bullied by the nefarious Natalie (Maddie Nichols).
Things get even weirder for Will. Unvetted patient Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) turns up looking to talk. Lester lost all three of his kids – one to sudden infant death syndrome … he’s presumed to be the other two’s killer. He’s insistent that an entity glommed onto his family’s grief and took the children from he and his wife Rita (Marin Ireland). Lester inadvertently passes this pest onto the Harper household.
I’m not entirely certain for whom “The Boogeyman” was made. It’s produced by Shawn Levy and his 21 Laps Entertainment – some of the creatives behind Netflix’s “Stranger Things” – and it seems marketed towards that youthful audience. Despite its PG-13 rating, “The Boogeyman” isn’t for youngsters. Thematically this is very much an R-rated movie. It’s a mere 98 minutes, but plays as if it were far longer. This isn’t indicative of it being boring, but rather because it’s an exhausting and exhaustive mediation on grief and loss.
It’s an intense jump scare machine of a movie that will likely unsettle younger viewers. Savage creatively employs light sources (the incandescent moon orb with which Sawyer sleeps, a Zippo lighter and red and green Christmas lights) to amplify the tension and terror. The creature as conceived by the folks at Folks VFX is shown sparingly, but it’s appropriately appalling.
The script by “A Quiet Place” scribes Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (with an assist by “Black Swan” writer Mark Heyman) echoes John Krasinski’s film in certain regards, is a vast improvement on the pair’s “65” from earlier this year and gives its primary performers meaty material to play. Messina acts against his a-hole-ish onscreen persona (most recently and masterfully seen in Ben Affleck’s “Air”) by bringing a surprising amount of warmth to the canned role of disbelieving dad. Thatcher and Blair emote beautifully and present a believable sisterly bond … they’re both going places. Dastmalchian does disturbed better than almost anyone else currently in the biz.
“The Boogeyman” was originally intended for streaming release on Hulu, but I must say it’s deserving of theatrical exhibition. I don’t think the appropriately dark and moody cinematography of Eli Born (he also shot last year’s “Hellraiser” reboot) would read or resonate quite as well at home without an expertly-calibrated OLED TV and blackout curtains. As for the dark and moody movie itself … it should satisfy adult audiences open to PG-13 horror and unafraid of emotional roller coaster rides.