Cinematic Releases: The Boogeyman (2023) - Reviewed

Images Courtesy of 20th Century Studios
One of scare novel icon Stephen King’s oldest short stories The Boogeyman, dating back to 1973 before becoming part of Night Shift, curiously remained for decades among the few literary works of the renowned horror author not to be adapted to either the silver or small screens.  In 1982 King and television director Jeff Schiro did make a lower budgeted thirty-minute television episode adaptation of the short story for his Nightshift Collection.  Circa 2018 however, A Quiet Place screenwriters Scott Beck and Bryan Woods decided to tackle King’s tragic horror novella for 20th Century Fox only for the project to be cancelled a year later following Disney’s merger with what became 20th Century Studios. 

Then COVID-19 happened and film production ceased completely for a while until fledgling filmmakers like Rob Savage went the Unfriended route with his Shudder produced webcam horror film Host.  Following the success of that film, Savage then directed the controversial Blumhouse dashboard horror film Dashcam.  Somehow or another, the suits at 20th Century Studios liked what they saw of the cinema verite styled filmmaker and offered him the chance to effectively revive and direct The Boogeyman, now a multimillion-dollar project bringing screenwriter Mark Heyman aboard to further polish Beck and Woods’ screenplay.  The question becomes, like most horror filmmakers starting out in the found footage mockumentary subgenre, can Rob Savage make the transition from shaky grimy digital video to polished 35mm widescreen Hollywood filmmaking?
Withdrawn and depressed high-school student Sadie Harper (Sophie Thatcher), her little sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) and therapist father Will (Chris Messina) are still in the throes of grief after the loss of their mother with Will further getting lost in himself and neglectful of his children.  Unexpectedly, a disturbed gothic looking patient dressed in black comes to the grieving therapist’s home telling stories about offing his wife and children, prompting a police call who arrive too late to find the man has killed himself.  Soon after the incident, Sawyer and Sadie begin noticing strange paranormal poltergeist phenomena occurring within their home and at nice are terrorized by some sort of entity that thrives in the darkness.  With no one from her estranged friends to her distant father believing them, Sadie takes matters into her own hands and tries to track down the origin of the entity before it kills everyone.
One of many Boogeyman movies and easy to confuse with Ulli Lommel’s 1980 Video Nasty or Stephen Kay’s 2005 Sam Raimi produced horror, this new PG-13 take on an old Stephen King story like Evil Dead Rise before it was originally intended for streaming before positive test screenings bumped it up to a theatrical release.  Reportedly some scenes were altered based on those test screenings and presumably the trailers shown on network TV include snippets of audience reactions which right away is a bad sign.  Having sat through Rob Savage’s first time making a real feature film and not just a V/H/S film, the end results are not unlike Come Play or Lights Out or more recently Antlers where the screen cuts to black with a couple of stroboscopic flash glimpses of the monster followed by the sound mixers cranking up the volume for jump scares.  Point being, King penned or not we’ve seen this film to death and despite nice production values nothing in it feels altogether new.

Visually speaking the film looks splendid with some Gaspar Noe inspired camera rotations rendered by Eli Born of Hulu’s Hellraiser remake.  Much of the film resides in dark shadows though there’s also room for a few broad daylight scares.  Set pieces of ceilings being infected by darkness like vines or roots of a tree compounded with lit candles on the floor look remarkable and startling in panoramic widescreen and silhouetting becomes a prominent scare tactic in the film.  Sound wise the moody and ambient horror score by Patrick Jonsson who did the score for the Oscar winning The White Helmets and its an effectively unsettling soundtrack that helps augment the atmosphere and only taking center stage when it needs to. 
Sophie Thatcher as the film’s scream queen, fresh off of Yellowjackets, gives a strong horror performance with a lot of emotions onscreen including but not limited to crying out in sorrow or terror.  Equally strong is Bird Box child actress Vivien Lyra Blair, fresh off of Obi-Wan Kenobi as a child Leia Organa, as the terrified little sister who is among the first to cross paths with the titular The Boogeyman.  Chris Messina is mostly fine as the grieving father though special attention should go to Madison Hu as Sadie’s best friend who tries repeatedly to reconnect with her but keeps getting caught up with the popular girls at school and an attempt to bring them all together with the invisible entity involved goes horribly awry.  It’s a somewhat sympathetic character who tries unsuccessfully to meet our heroine in the middle while getting dangerously close to the firing line herself.

Intended for Hulu also ala Prey (which still lacks a physical media release) before test screenings and a successful theatrical run of Evil Dead Rise changed the studio’s mind and further earned Stephen King’s endorsement, The Boogeyman is a mostly fine supernatural horror thriller aimed at the teenage crowd while also quenching the thirsts of many a King die-hards.  Being one of many movies with the same concept and same title, it is somewhat hard to get excited or worked up about The Boogeyman especially when compared to some of the other screen horrors we got earlier this year (Infinity Pool; Scream; Inside; The Outwaters) as well as the further uncensored proliferation of horror on television.  Fans of the jump scare or audiences who have never seen a horror film in their life might soil their theater seats while the rest of us shrug and move on.  At best a fair King adaptation which the (no pun intended) King of horror himself seemed to enjoy.

--Andrew Kotwicki