The Boogeyman delivers big jolts and strong characters

The Boogeyman delivers big jolts and strong characters

Rob Savage became a household name in the horror community when, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, he and a group of collaborators made Host, the near feature-length screen-life shocker that took place entirely over a zoom call. The film is uniquely terrifying, providing effective and layered jump scares that perfectly complement the film’s overall spookiness. It was an immediate hit, and it showed how a resourceful and clever filmmaker could transcend the limitations of a global lockdown, delivering solid scares with very little to go on except ingenuity. His follow-up, Dashcam, kept the found footage format of Host, but took it on the road, showcasing the most horrifying faux-rideshare footage imaginable. While some were put off by the hilariously over-the-top protagonist, there was no denying the craft behind the scares. Dashcam remains a Herculean effort of production and a nightmarish onslaught of effective scare gags.When it was announced that Savage would be directing The Boogeyman, an adaptation of a Stephen King short story (expanded to feature length by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman), fans speculated whether or not the filmmaker would be remaining in his found footage wheelhouse. If not, would his DIY sensibilities translate to a more classically constructed piece of cinema?

The good news is that, yes, Savage is able to manufacture some seriously shocking scares throughout the course of The Boogeyman, many of them using a found footage-adjacent feeling to shock the viewer, while also effectively telegraphing dread with tools that found footagers typically cannot use, such as artistic camerawork, score, and the non-adherence to a “can’t cut away” framing device. The bad news is that despite having a script which takes a relatively simple story and cleverly expands it well beyond its logical reach, the film struggles to define itself beyond your standard “don’t turn out the lights” creature feature. That said, as far as such things go, it’s more than passable, and is sure to provide a genre crowd with exactly what is advertised.

The Boogeyman’s greatest strength outside of the aforementioned direction is its excellent cast. Chris Messina gives a deep, emotionally resonant performance as Will Harper, a therapist, widower, and father who is doing his best to keep his small family together. His eldest daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) is struggling to find her way in the wake of her mother’s death, while her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) is working to reconcile such a heavy loss with the garden variety fears that come with being a child. When a walk-in patient (David Dastmalchian) meets a tragic end after telling Will tales of a supernatural entity he believes has targeted his family, its all the Harpers can do to keep themselves together in a world gone dark. But what begins as a series of easily explainable, albeit spooky occurrences within their household soon becomes evidence of something much more malevolent than simple misfortune.

It’s the interplay between the members of the Harper family which elevates the standard plot. The way they process their grief both as individuals and as a family ring true to real life, which helps to pave over the paint-by-numbers nature of the general plot. These people are easy to care about and are wholly undeserving of the horrors regularly heaped upon them. All three get to show different modes that make them seem infinitely more than than so many cookie-cutter characterizations of horror victims. Will has to be a professional, a father, and a husband in crisis. Sadie is an outcast teenager, an older sister, and in many ways a surrogate for her deceased mother in all her capacities as part of a family. Sawyer, a character with every reason to be an annoying “movie kid,” meaning she should either be helpless or weirdly adult, ultimately comes across as an actual child, doing her best to maintain innocence and strength in a situation that not even the worst person on the planet deserves. It’s Vivien Lyra Blair whose performance steals the film in this regard, and does so while surrounded by equally compelling actors.

Once the film gets going, the scares come quickly and regularly, and Savage finds innovative construction for just about every gag. One device, which involves a novelty lamp in the shape of the moon (see: it can be easily rolled into a dark hallway), is regularly used to great effect. The titular creature prefers to hang out in the shadows, which keeps the creep factor high, even if it’s occasionally too dark to tell what’s going on. Even so, the generally dark lens of the third act is only intermittently a problem since the camera almost always guides the viewer’s eye to precisely where it should be. And much like A Quiet Place, which shares a few writers with The Boogeyman, the film doesn’t deflate when we finally get a good look at the big, bad, beastie. A rare feat indeed.

The Boogeyman isn’t going to change the game, but it’s damn scary where it needs to be, and is a strong addition to the directorial calling-card of Rob Savage. It also serves as quite the showcase for its three leads, who take what could be a formulaic seat-filler and elevate it into a respectable genre entry. While this one is unlikely to fill the multiplex given it’s generic-seeming nature (a shame considering how fun it is to be scared with a group), it will almost definitely find a second wind when it hits home video — a darkened room with any number of nooks and crannies in the viewer’s periphery will certainly enhance every last shocking moment.

But why wait? Go support horror on the big screen and then watch it again at home. This is the way.

Directed by Rob Savage

Written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Mark Heyman, Stephen King

Starring Chriss Messina, Sophie Thatcher, David Dastmalchian, Vivien Lyra Blair

Rated PG-13, 98 minutes

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