Stephen King’s “The Boogeyman,” from his best-selling novel of short stories Night Shift, remains one of the simplest and creepiest he ever wrote. In just twelve brief pages, a disheveled father spills his guts to a therapist regarding the mysterious murder of his three children. With an entire story set solely at a therapist’s office, how would director Rob Savage (Host, Dashcam) and screenwriters Mark Heyman, Scott Beck, and Bryan Woods expand King’s prose to feature length? Their approach to The Boogeyman proves they understand exactly what made the concept so chilling in the first place. By focusing on a core family after a mean-spirited, horrifying opening scene, the audience is kept on the edge of their seats as the danger lurks in every shadow. Those who fear the dark may find a new favorite horror film that brings new meaning to the trope of a monster under the bed.
The pain of losing the family matriarch is still so fresh, and for what remains of the Harper family, nothing will ever be the same. Sadie (Sophie Thatcher, Yellowjackets, The Book of Boba Fett) has completely immersed herself into her artist mother’s wardrobe as a coping mechanism, latching onto a cute yellow dress. Sadie clinging to the scent of her mom is something that really touched me in having also lost a mother; not only is the pain indescribable, but one almost cannot even figure out how to process it. Much of the film is spent exploring the various stages of grief all three members of the family are going through. Will (Chris Messina, Sharp Objects, Devil) won’t even acknowledge the loss, to the point that when Sadie tries to chat with him about her, he wants to brush her off to a different therapist rather than exploring their feelings together. Little Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, Bird Box, Obi Wan Kenobi) spies on her father’s therapy sessions, and snuggles with a glowing ball of light. Though we barely grasp how Sawyer is handling her mom’s death, her viewpoint becomes incredibly important when it comes to the titular Boogeyman.
The script does a fantastic job in exploring this shared trauma, with Sadie in particular having the purest connection to her mom. As she longs for the therapist to be right about noticing signs that her mom is still around, Sadie will have to learn to distinguish between the spirit of her mother and the horrifying echo entity that takes on her voice. When the film arrives at the trademark therapy scene with an anxious, paranoid Lester (David Dastmalchian, The Suicide Squad, Late Night With the Devil), the disturbing power of King’s story emerges anew. Some of Lester’s recollection is delivered line for line, but it’s Dastmalchian that really sells the sequence. He does not refer to the closet-creature as The Boogeyman; rather, Lester calls it “the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention.” Somehow, that makes it even more horrifying.
An eerie score, punctuated by a somber piano tune, perfectly establishes the horrifying atmosphere that follows. Lester leaves behind an entity, often referred to within the film as a “shadow monster,” that latches onto those dealing with trauma in their most vulnerable state. A nasty blackness begins spreading across the walls of the Harper’s home. Sawyer is relentlessly tormented by this “dark thing,” and soon Sadie begins seeing it too. As if the catty girls at school aren’t enough to deal with, Sadie becomes plagued by nightmares, commingling with the tragedy of losing her mom at such an early age. At one point, Sawyer straight-up asks Sadie if this creature is real. Sadie promises her “I’m gonna find out.” Can the wife (Marin Ireland, The Dark and the Wicked, Hell or High Water) of Lester help Sadie find answers?
Slickly directed by Rob Savage, The Boogeyman has interesting shot compositions and creative scares to boot. When Sawyer peaks under the bed upside down, the camera flips with her. A moment framing a figure in the background is perfectly centered on the strange circle of a washing machine. The film is far more than jump scares. Lighting and shadow are used masterfully to craft each sequence in whatever way Savage sees fit. When it comes to creature design, a vital ingredient for any monster movie, The Boogeyman very wisely only reveals its true nature in glimpses. What we do see is ghastly indeed, evoking A Quiet Place and Ritual. In the story, the creature is described more as a slithering thing that makes a “slimy sliding sound”—they clearly decided to go in a different direction cinematically, for the better. Perhaps the flavor of horror here may not be a game changer, but is definitely grim enough to leave a mark.
Originally meant for release straight to Hulu, test screenings were apparently so successful that the studio elected to show The Boogeyman in theaters nationwide. An emotionally resonant message about losing a parent ties beautifully into the larger narrative without feeling forced. Best of all, the ending leaves the audience with the same shaky feeling as King’s short story. Some may call this PG-13 horror movie a rip-off of Lights Out; Stephen King did it first—and better.
Keep that closet door closed, or else The Boogeyman will come to get you in theaters everywhere on Friday, June 2nd.