We’ve been so fortunate to have a treasure trove of genuinely great horror flicks in the past year. From the Scream legacy sequels, to Ty West’s X films, last year’s Smile, The Black Phone, Nope, and this year’s exceptional Evil Dead Rise. So please forgive me for being spoiled in terms of my expectations of horror.
When horror bucks clichés, it can transcend the genre, or at least satisfy viewers. On the other hand, when it leans so incredibly heavily into every bad trope we’ve seen before, it bores rather than thrills. Such is the case of The Boogeyman.
That’s not to say there aren’t genuine scares in this movie. The first act is relatively strong. But there’s a certain point where a character throws all caution into the wind, and I ended up sighing really hard, thinking “haven’t we evolved past this in horror cinema yet?” Apparently not.
The movie is
based on inspired by the Stephen King short story of the same name. However the movie’s plot deviates from that significantly. The movie centers on Sadie Harper (Sophie Turner), her psychologist father, Will (Chris Messina), and her sister Sawyer (Obi-Wan‘s Vivian Lyra Blair), who have just lost Sadie’s mother in an accident. Will isn’t talking about the accident due to the emotional pain. And Sadie and Sawyer are trying to get by with their father’s emotional distance. However, one day, a patient named Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) sees Will at the Harper home, and reveals to him his kids were all killed by a malevolent entity that looks like a shadow. Disturbed, Will tries to call for help, but Lester is found by Sadie, hung in their studio closet in an apparent suicide. Following his death, however, the same spirit that killed Lester’s kids seems to be hunting Sawyer and Sadie, and it’s up to Sadie to uncover the truth about the creature and how to put an end to their torment.
Now I’m a King fan, but no expert by any means, on this or any of his stories. But from what I gather, the only part truly rooted in the story takes place in the first act with Lester. And the rest comes off like studio notes from an executive about how to copy every single horror film ever made in the past few decades. The Boogeyman feels identical to films like Lights Out, Smile, Drag Me to Hell, and The Babadook, but feels incredibly inferior to them. There’s a lot of jump scares, and some of them work. Some of the mood setting does too. But everything feels so overly familiar and obvious, that the suspense was taken out of it completely for me.
In an age of horror movies from the likes of the aforementioned West, Ari Aster, and Jordan Peele, I was hoping this movie would be a bit smarter about how to generate genuine scares, or how to construct a compelling story. Sadly it fails to do the latter on all accounts, and fails to mostly do the former as a result. It’s easy enough watching a slasher movie and rooting for the killer to take out the unlikable teens. Or Barbarian, where we’re waiting for Justin Long to get it! But we’re supposed to like and care about this family to generate true stakes, and I just didn’t. I started to at first, but when they’re making the same stupid clichéd choices said unlikable teens in other horror movies make, I stopped.
There are just moments in this movie that just checked me out of it due to poor logic and a general “been-there-done-that” formula. For example, one character is slammed into a TV and shatters it. It literally looks like someone slammed them into a TV, but it’s brushed off as “an accident.” Huh? There’s also a moment where a grief psychiatrist starts putting on a blinking light in a dark room to test their patient’s bravery. What kind of psychiatrist would handle grief and trauma like that? You have to suspend your disbelief for a lot of this to work, which I get is necessary for supernatural horror or for any movie. But when most of the choices made by characters are ridiculously stupid choices or statements, it’s hard for me to connect with them and worry about them. So the tension was completely dead for me by the second act.
Then there’s just the pile of derivative story beats and jump scares, complimented by such obvious execution. You have the tired “need to find out what I’m dealing with” investigation. The “crazy recluse has some answers” moments. The “I don’t believe you because I didn’t see it despite literally bad things happening” moments. And the director not so subtly dropping very predictable moments. A subplot about communicating with the dead is introduced, along with a lighter, and a can of lighter fluid. Gee, I wonder how that’s all going to come into play later? More so than even Smile, which I thought was predictable but had scares that were generally more effective than The Boogeyman, I was able to guess moment for moment how this movie was going to play out. And low and behold, when it all played out that way, that was the only time the movie didn’t disappoint me.
Additionally, the “monster as a metaphor for grief” trope has honestly been overdone to death. And without the soulful and suspenseful artistry of a filmmaker like The Babadook’s Jennifer Kent to navigate through the humanity of the issue, it just feels stale and hollow here. It’s just very hard to talk about this movie without comparing it to Kent’s film or even Hereditary, or The Descent, because it’s the same story but done worse. It doesn’t help that in a film from a once dead screenplay from the guys who wrote A Quiet Place, the monster looks incredibly derivative of the aliens from that film, or perhaps the Cloverfield monster. If you find that scary, then terrific. If not, which I personally don’t, it was met with a shrug.
Now, at minimum, despite these characters being idiotic and flat, the actors give the performances their all. Thatcher gives a commanding lead performance as Sadie. Blair is quite adorable and often funny as Sawyer. And Messina does what he can with the screen time given to him. As does Dastmachian, who is hands down, giving the best, creepiest performance in the film for all of 10 minutes or less. The screenplay and the direction are definitely not their fault. So it’s nice that, given what they have to work with, they’re trying their all.
From a technical standpoint, I could give some kudos to the movie’s tense score. And the effects for the eponymous creature are actually well done, despite it’s lackluster design. There are some cheap “creature-in-the-dark” shots that are okay and set the mood pretty well. And there are some fun Easter eggs for Stephen King fans out there as well.
Look, I realize that my enjoyment of the movie is essentially being skewed by my feelings for other, better movies. But when your movie is essentially just rip-off after rip-off of the same things we’ve seen in better movies, the comparisons are inevitable. Will this scare some folks out there? I’m sure it will. But I just found myself bored by its predictability and blandness. I couldn’t even enjoy it on a camp level like I did this year’s M3GAN or Malignant because it takes itself way too seriously. And even from a PG-13 horror standpoint, movies like Insidious, The Ring (2002), and Drag Me to Hell have proven that this movie didn’t need to be R-Rated to be legitimately terrific. But instead of going for that glory, it settles for uninspired as it stands on the shoulders of greater horror movies before it. Bottom line is, The Boogeyman was honestly just a bit lame for me. And if I’m going home after seeing it, and resting quite easily, the movie failed to do its job.
Overall Score: D (for Dull. Or Dumb)
The Boogeyman hits theaters June 2.