“The Boogeyman” – Reliving childhood fears.
My first scary movie was the original Poltergeist. I was around eight years old at the time and my dad thought it would be a good idea to let me watch it. He was wrong. I distinctly remember being terrified by the scene where Robbie is dragged under the bed by the scariest stuffed clown ever made. When my ten-year-old son asked if he could go with me to see The Boogeyman, that damned clown flashed through my head. After Poltergeist, I wouldn’t go near my stuffed animals for weeks, and my son is currently going through a phase where he has to turn on every light in the house before walking within twenty feet of a dark room. So, my response was no. He won’t be seeing The Boogeyman any time soon. If I had taken him with me, I’d be fetching clothes from his closet for the rest of our lives.
The boogeyman is a monster we’re all familiar with. Traditionally, it’s the thing parents tell their children will get them if they misbehave. In The Boogeyman, that fable is turned around – it’s the thing that will get children if parents stop paying attention.
The Boogeyman is based on a short story by Stephen King (originally published in 1973 in Cavalier magazine, then published as part of an anthology of King stories called Night Shift) in which a man explains the deaths of his three children to a therapist. Rather than try to turn that single conversation into an entire film, screenwriters Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman tell a story that is effectively a sequel to that conversation. That conversation still happens as the prologue to the film. Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) barges into Dr. Will Harper’s (Chris Messina) home office, Lester insisting that he must tell someone the truth about the monster (the boogeyman) responsible for the deaths of his three children. Upon entering Harper’s house, Lester unwittingly exposes the Harpers to the boogeyman. We learn that the it attaches itself to damaged families, thrives on frightening its victims, and eventually kills them after finding new victims to torment.
The Harpers are the epitome of a damaged family. Will’s wife was killed in a car accident and he and his two young daughters, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), are dealing with the loss. This kind of tragedy and sorrow is like catnip to the boogeyman. The film plays out in the standard format. The boogeyman starts small, slinking in the dark, nothing but a shape moving in the background or corner of the frame, scaring the girls in little ways. As the film moves on, the boogeyman escalates the scares to whet its appetite, frightening the girls (and the audience). All the while, Will is going through the motions of parenting, dismissing the girls’ warnings that something is in the house. As the film moves toward the climax, urgency sets in as Sadie uncovers information about the boogeyman, primarily through Lester’s wife (Marin Ireland). It sets up the classic showdown between the heroes and monster, ramps up the tension until it is palpable, and ultimately comes to a head.
Like all good horror flicks, The Boogeyman works because the boogeyman is hidden from view for most of the film, using our imaginations against us and cranking up the suspense. It’s a smart play since all of us have, at one time another, imagined what might be deep in the shadows of our closets. And not like the cute cuddly “monsters” of Monsters Inc., but the terrifying monstrosities of Cloverfield or Aliens.
Another smart decision was keeping the cast small. The majority of the movie features only the three Harpers, nicely fleshed-out characters in whom the audience easily becomes invested. We sympathize with Sadie as she deals with high school nonsense and her increasing desperation to get anyone to believe her about the boogeyman. We fear for Sawyer, who always seems to be a hair’s breadth from a gruesome death. And we all but scream at Will to WAKE UP! LISTEN TO SADIE! THAT CLOSET DOOR DIDN’T OPEN ITSELF!! Other than the Harpers, there is Lester who only appears in the beginning of the film, Lester’s wife Rita (Marin Ireland) who provides some exposition and an action scene, a therapist named Dr. Weller (LisaGay Hamilton) who is more of a prop than anything else, and a quartet of high school girls who serve no purpose to the film whatsoever. If I have one complaint about this film, it’s that those high school girls do not exit this film in any kind of satisfying way.
Many of Stephen King’s adaptations have caused us to cover our eyes, but often for reasons that have nothing to do with being scared. The Boogeyman is not one of those films. It has smart writing, good suspense, and solid performance from the characters that matter. Most importantly, it delivers what we want from horror movies – scares that are so good, we’ll have trouble sleeping that night, wondering what that sound was or if we remembered to close the closet door. You did remember to close it, didn’t you?
Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, but maybe ask to keep a light on in the corner. Just in case.