THE BOOGEYMAN movie poster | ©2023 20th Century Studios

THE BOOGEYMAN movie poster | ©2023 20th Century Studios

Rating: PG-13
Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, Madison Hu, David Dastmalchian, Marin Ireland, LisaGay Hamilton, Maddie Nichols, Leeann Ross
Writers: Scott Beck & Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman, screen story by Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, based on the short story by Stephen King
Director: Rob Savage
Distributor: 20th Century Studios
Release Date: June 2, 2023

Stephen King’s short story “The Boogeyman” manages to start out sad and disturbing, and then scare the daylight out of you.

Because of the specifics of the short story, a major studio release based on it was very likely to take the details in a somewhat different direction. This is what happens with the current feature THE BOOGEYMAN, directed by Rob Savage (of HOST) from a screenplay by Scott Beck & Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman, from Beck and Woods’s screen story.

We still have King’s story’s key components of child death, menacing closet doors, and possibly untrustworthy psychiatrists, but the protagonist has been swapped out. Our lead is now high school student Sadie Harper (Sophie Thatcher). Sadie is still in mourning over the car-accident death of her mother months earlier.

Sadie’s little sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) is also grieving. As for their dad, psychiatrist Will Harper (Chris Messina), he has suppressed his own pain so much that he can barely talk to his daughters, although he clearly loves them.

Then a distraught man, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), invades Will’s home office, insisting that he needs immediate help. (For those who haven’t read the short story, Lester is the main character there.) Although he has not been arrested, Lester is suspected of murdering his three young children. He has read about the Harper family tragedy and thinks Will may be able to empathize. Lester says he lost his first child to crib death. The second and third, however …

King as a writer is often partial to monsters that feed on fear. While this wasn’t the case with his “Boogeyman” story, it is the case with THE BOOGEYMAN movie. The filmmakers have also expanded on the mythology to add a viral curse element to it.

All of this works very well, as does the first-rate creature design by Daniel Carrasco. Director Savage, of the wonderful HOST, demonstrates again that he is expert at putting things in frame that look innocuous at first, then menacing, then terrifying.

The cast is likewise very good, with Thatcher showing strength and gaining sympathy as the central figure, Blair as a very appealing sidekick (who gets what is arguably the film’s best line), and Messina as a believably beleaguered man out of his depth.

But there’s also a sense of pulled punches here. Part of this may have to do with getting THE BOOGEYMAN to squeeze itself into the PG-13 rating closet. It’s understandable that a mainstream commercial movie didn’t dive headfirst into some of what makes King’s story so disquieting, but some of the filler (mean girls at high school, tense family dynamics) feels relatively conventional.

Also, nobody in this contemporary middle-class setting seems to have ever seen a horror movie. We don’t need self-reference, but some awareness of the basics (like not going off alone into a dark space) would not go amiss.

THE BOOGEYMAN does get points for finding a way to stay true to itself and still honor King’s climax, essentially splitting the difference between the two. The movie doesn’t break any barriers, but it is respectably frightening and entertaining.

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