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'The Boogeyman': What isn't there
Rob Savage’s take on the classic S.K. story is demonstrative proof of his ability to scare, even if it fails to add definition and texture to the terror.
STEPHEN KING’S EIGHTEEN-PAGE FEVER DREAM about parental neglect is tucked neatly in a collection called Night Shift, the author’s first and most seminal. It unravels all in one psychiatric visit, with Lester Billings, a downtrodden and dubious character, unpacking the tragic events of his unenviable life. He shares with Dr. Harper how he has lost, in unbelievable succession, all three of his children, and why, despite their deaths being accidental in nature, he feels ultimately at fault.
In Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman, Billings (played by David Dastmalchian) shuffles into Dr. Will Harper’s office with an agenda graver than any impromptu trauma dump. Like Lester, Will (Chris Messina) is going through it: His wife’s passing has left him and his two daughters — Sadie, a headstrong loner (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer, Sadie’s woeful but clever younger sister (Vivien Lyra Blair) — distraught and estranged. Grief-stricken, his family feels troubled enough as it is. But something, something more sinister than the pain of losing a loved one, lurks in the darkness behind doors ajar. “It’s the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention,” Lester warns.
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It’s a good spot to start, this unwanted, peculiar visit. The first few minutes of The Boogeyman serves as a clear indication of Savage’s capabilities as a genre filmmaker. The cold open is a nightmarish ‘oner’ that shows how ruthless the eponymous monster-in-the-closet can get. Savage’s camera pans with clinical precision, an attribute not uncommon in films of its ilk (which is to say…the Blumhouse-ness of it all). In as few shots as it would take him, Savage conveys vividly the weight that Will, Sadie, and Sawyer collectively and individually carry, and how that in itself endangers what’s left of their family.
This is also thanks to the film’s capable cast. Thatcher is a clear standout. She lends Sadie that heavy-on-the-shoulder teenage angst that never feels untrue about her character. Messina, per usual, is a strong presence; his showing is only less notable because the script doesn’t offer any definition to his grief and the distance he regretfully makes away from his children. That faint impression of helplessness and despair that Messina is able to conjure, however impressive, feels ultimately scant for a story so rooted in parents’ failure to protect their children.
What’s more, the second half feels drawn-out, stuffed with side quests that venture to assail the physical manifestation of the film’s monster, not uprooting the horrors it represents. The script sometimes finds its characters commit senseless acts that, were it not for some truly terrifying set pieces, can bog down the entire film. There’s even a nod to Savage’s 2020 film, Host, a film that, similarly, grapples with the debilitating pains of grief but gets impeded by not-so-stellar script-work.
This take on the classic S.K. story is demonstrative proof of Savage’s ability to, at the very least, make things scary. With amiable precision, he does here for closet spaces what he’s done for Zoom calls in Host. And while The Boogeyman might be no The Babadook, it’s damn near worth the trip to the theaters.
2023 | dir. Rob Savage | 🇺🇸 98 min
Still reeling from the tragic death of their mother, a teenage girl and her younger sister find themselves plagued by a sadistic presence in their house and struggle to get their grieving father to pay attention before it's too late.