The Boogeyman (PG-13) ★★

Review Date: June 5th, 2023

For many years, the narrative existed that Hollywood didn't understand how to make a good Stephen King movie. Oh, there were counterexamples and The Shining has its supporters (the author is not among them) but the prevailing mantra went something like: "good book, bad film." Recently, however, that has changed, due in large part to the release of the King-approved two-part It. That's why it's depressing to recognize that The Boogeyman, based on a 50-year old short story, represents a tremendous misstep, conflating King's unsettling tale with generic horror tropes and a third act that feels like an Alien rip-off.

The screenplay, credited to Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman, uses the original short story as a basis for a mostly new tale. Although the content of "The Boogeyman" is included as an interlude during the first act, most of the movie focuses on characters tangential to the source material. Tonally, the movie suffers from a disconnect between the longer first section, which offers fairly traditional horror movie stuff (something creeping around in the shadows, lots of jump-scares), and the action-oriented final 40 minutes, which features a showdown between the monster and its would-be victims. The resolution feels like a cheat, seemingly breaking rules established earlier in the film.

Dr. Will Harper (Chris Messina) is a renowned therapist who is coping with his own personal tragedy: the death of his wife in a car crash. On the same day that his children - high schooler Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and elementary schooler Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) - return to their "normal" lives, he begins seeing patients again. One of the first is the deeply disturbed Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), who relates the story of how a shadow monster (called The Boogeyman) stalked and killed his three children. His session with Will ends badly and, as a result of Lester entering the Harper home (where the doctor sees clients), The Boogeyman begins hunting Sadie and Sawyer, hiding in closets and under beds. The creature stalks his victims in the darkness and shadows, deterred only by bright lights, and there seems to be no way to stop it.

Director Rob Savage (whose previous resume includes Host and Dashcam) uses darkness as an aesthetic but he's less expert at working with low-light and shadow than some of his contemporaries. With too little contrast, it can become difficult to see much in the muddled grayness of certain scenes. Although the intent is to keep the H.R. Gieger-inspired creature from being seen too clearly (a stylistic choice), the lack of definition can lead to frustration trying to ascertain the specifics of what's going on. The "less is more" approach to showing The Boogeyman is probably the right one, but Savage's overreliance on poor lighting doesn't fashion the foreboding atmosphere he's going for.

Surprisingly, The Boogeyman managed to garner a PG-13 from the capricious MPAA, whose only markers when it comes to doling out R ratings are nudity, explicit gore, and multiple f-bombs. Based purely on content, this never should have been given the teen-friendly rating. In addition to focusing on the death and maiming of children, The Boogeyman contains scenes that are too intense for many young teenagers. This is an adult movie with adult content and the fact that it doesn't show eviscerations, copious bloodlettings, and spattered brains shouldn't trick parents into thinking it's "okay" for any child.

The Boogeyman was originally made with the intention of sending it directly to Hulu. (It will still get there, albeit a little later in its life cycle than planned.) Positive test screenings caused a change in strategy but it's hard to see this movie making much of an impact at the box office. As horror movies go, this one doesn't have much to distinguish it; despite the "based on the work of Stephen King" tag, it's generic in approach and result. Those looking for a quick horror fix may be satisfied - there are enough jump-scares to fill a quota - but, when one considers the number of inventive and interesting genre titles that have graced multiplex screens in recent years, this a disappointing exception.

© 2023 James Berardinelli