Movie review: ‘The Boogeyman’ delivers a Stephen King scare package

Tribune Content Agency

Working with writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods – who co-wrote “A Quiet Place” with John Krasinski – and also writer Mark Heyman (“Black Swan”), British director Rob Savage (“Host”) brings us “The Boogeyman,” a film based on a short story by the master of modern horror Stephen King. We all know how much King loves scaring his “children” aka readers with stories about kids being terrified by all the manifold horrors of childhood (psychotic clowns, ghost twins, insane parents, the thing in the water, possessed cars, vampires, etc.). The truth is that King just loves scaring himself (his vast output has not been “work;” it has been a runaway train of addictive self-amusement).

In the amusingly titled “The Boogeyman,” King and director Savage go to something as primal as they get: the thing lurking in every child’s closet that comes out and gets them when they are alone in the dark. I’m scaring myself just writing these words, and I am not a child. I do not recommend bringing children to see “The Boogeyman” unless you want them refusing to sleep in their own beds.

In the beginning, we see glowing balls of protective light covering a child in a bed. But in the dark, something with a gnarled hand and a frightening voice kills a toddler. Cut to a different grieving household. Older sister Sadie Harper (the very talented Sophie Thatcher) smells a dress worn by her mother, who was recently killed in a car accident. Sadie wears it to school, where a rude, fellow student causes it to become soiled. Is Sadie going to set the other girl on fire with her mind? No, back home Sadie’s little sister Sawyer (the remarkable Vivien Lyra Blair, “Birdbox”) sleeps with a ball of light, which she rolls on the floor to illuminate the dark corners (and the closet). Something bad is going to happen (again) in the Harper household because Sadie and Sawyer’s father Will Harper (Chris Messina), a therapist, has allowed a deeply troubled stranger named Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian, “Dune”), a man whose face resembles a painting by Edvard Munch, into the house.

The film’s writers can be terribly vague on the details. Why does no one else in the house hear the bangs, screams and destruction? Why does Billings’ widow Rita (Marin Ireland) have dozens of lit candles melting on the floor in the halls of her house, which she patrols with a pump-action shotgun? Obviously, it’s because Savage liked the look. If you aren’t bothered by that sort of thing, or by Savage’s use of the dreaded, outmoded shaky-cam in some scenes, you are going to enjoy “The Boogeyman” more than I did (and I liked it). It reminded me of the unadorned 1980s horror films about stricken families. Thatcher especially goes full angry and depressed. We get no sugarcoating of Sadie or her relationship with her father or little sister. King usually trowels on the sentiment in this sort of environment. But this time, I guess, working with a short story gave the writers and actors more freedom. Many viewers will be reminded of the far superior and more original 2014 Australian film “The Babadook.” We are told that the Boogeyman of the film’s title preys on “broken families” (Whose isn’t?) and that it has existed “forever.” LisaGay Hamilton is fun as a family therapist the Harpers turn to, perhaps inadvisedly. We get a weird bit about a loose baby tooth of Sawyer’s that Sadie extracts using a technique we do not recommend. Almost every “scare” in the film is a “jump cut.” These eventually wore me down. I felt bullied by jerks. Lights flash. Doors slam. And is it just me, or does Sadie descend into every basement she comes across? Still, how could anyone not smile at the sight of the crafty little Sawyer cloaked in coils of blinking Christmas lights?



Grade: B

MPA rating: PG-13 (for terror, violent content, teen drug use and some strong language)

Running time: 1:38

How to watch: Now in theaters