Paint-by-number horror can still startle, at least when it comes to The Boogeyman. For the latest adaptation of a Stephen King story, leaning on its source may scare up a few points. However, despite some spooks, The Boogeyman rarely rises above the formula it follows. That said, it offers frights worth experiencing.
The plot centers on the Harper family. After a tragic loss, they’re spiraling downward. Despite being a successful psychiatrist, father Will is unable to help his troubled family out of the growing dark. Enter Lester, played quite well by David Dastmachlian, a disturbed man who leaves the evil orbiting him among the Harpers.
What ensues is partly a haunting with a dash of demonic creature feature. It’s a solid enough premise but one undermined by familiarity. The Boogeyman is ultimately nothing new. In fact, it occasionally seems written by an A.I. Worse, there are infrequent parts that don’t feel composed by algorithms which accentuate the failings of the script, especially when it shows potential — the lost chances for something human. Although formula didn’t have to hinder The Boogeyman, filmmakers chose to largely ignore every instance that could have elevated the movie.
The two young daughters, Sadie and Sawyer, are the initial focus of the malevolent entity. Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair play their respective roles well, but except for a few brief scenes, there isn’t much need for acting. The Boogeyman soon settles into trope trails so well-worn it makes the more interesting portions sharply lost opportunities.
It’s frustrating because brief glimpses of a better script offer deeper characterization and a story about a family isolated by tragedy, during which the performers all show the ability to carry such material. However, director Rob Savage and the script steers straight for the riskless shores of predictable jump scares. It’s not that these aren’t effective, but they stick to foreseeable frights—good for fresh horror fans but unlikely to stir veteran viewers too terribly.
Youngest Sawyer is adorably precocious at times and has a definite chemistry with her family, particularly her father Will played by Chris Messina. Their adorable banter is charmingly heartwarming, and while it helps raise tension for a time, the story pulls away from these moments to facilitate its main focus of jump scares, jump scares, jump scares. I won’t pretend these don’t startle, but they’re quickly forgotten, especially as each set up echoes the previous act. Still, it’s not that The Boogeyman doesn’t have instances of genuine tension building. Some of which may make a viewer check under the bed later. The problem is that it uses the same set up so repeatedly the impact diminishes. Situations which frayed nerves earlier eventually become stale.
Stephen King apparently gave the film his approval. While that may satisfy some, keep in mind the abysmal history of adaptations which outnumber the gems his work inspired. Basically, The Boogeyman needed to clear a low bar, which it does, but that doesn’t make it a burgeoning classic. Though, that said, not everything needs to be the pinnacle to be entertaining.
One upside is that Sadie is always proactive. She never waits for someone else to find a solution. This isn’t a final girl who only discovers her strength at the end. Yet, her journey remains boring because she barely changes. At risk of implying spoilers, her character doesn’t so much grow as find validation for what she felt, remaining who she was at the beginning of The Boogeyman. Essentially, she goes through the whole film only to end up the same person she was at the start, except for maybe a wicked case of PTSD.
The creature is a definite plus. Gruesome to behold and only ever seen in glimpses, the titular terror is a treat. The filmmakers never overdo the paranormal presence, plus, the entity has an unsettling ability to mimic familiar voices that gets used to solid effect. Again, although The Boogeyman makes good use of this tension building tool, it constructs so many similar scenarios they boil down to the same scare sequence over and over. Whatever terror occurs the first few times, by the third or sixth instance the fear is going down tick by tick.
When moments of character development occur The Boogeyman flashes them rather than develops that which could have made the story more than merely dealing with a supernatural terror. Granted, that horror is more than enough to hold any audiences’ attention for the runtime. The problem is it keeps the flick from being anything other than another among a long line of similar paranormal scares.
While I don’t doubt The Boogeyman will join several Halloween movie marathons, and well it should, the film is hardly a game changer. It’s the kind of solid but basic flick that will do well on rentals around Halloween but easily be forgotten by anyone after. October movie binges and marathons in need of filler will grab this without losing quality, yet The Boogeyman is a flick that every viewer who enjoys watching will forget a day or two later.
Worth one watch, The Boogeyman is a horror movie with solid scares that don’t last. It also contains an Easter Egg to one of the director’s other films which neither adds nor detracts from this movie; it’s enjoyable for those who notice. Anyone looking for a casual fright should give The Boogeyman a chance.