Monsters Hide in the Darkness of the Visually Striking Boogeyman
Not long after the death of his wife, psychiatrist Will Harper (Chris Messina) sits face-to-face with a potential new patient. He didn’t have an appointment, but his depressed, grief-stricken demeanor forces Will’s hand. But he immediately second-guesses his decision to hear the stranger’s story. Turns out this man is Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), suspected of murdering two of his own children after the third — the youngest — died from SIDS earlier in the year.
For those acquainted with Stephen King’s unsettling short story on which the seductively sinister horror yarn The Boogeyman from director Rob Savage (Host, Dashcam) is based, that brief synopsis should sound familiar. Everything that happens after this moment, however? That’s mostly the work of A Quiet Place and Haunt scribes Scott Beck and Bryan Woods,along with Black Swan writer Mark Heyman. They’ve constructed an unoriginal, if still insidiously clever, supernatural mood piece about a broken family dealing with forces beyond anything they could have imagined, a beast unwittingly allowed to enter their home that intends to feast on the flesh, blood, and souls of Will’s two daughters.
The talented Sophie Thatcher portrays the eldest of the siblings, high school senior Sadie, while a scene-stealing Vivien Lyra Blair plays her afraid-of-the-dark younger sister, Sawyer. Both are excellent, and even when the script wanders into conventional territory — 2016’s Lights Out and 2003’s Darkness Falls trod a similar path — the actors still more than rise to the occasion, playing off one another wonderfully. The building terror each feels is both similar and unique, which is exactly as it should be considering their age difference.
And what is going on, one may ask? Turns out Lester did not murder his children. Instead, he and his wife Rita (Marin Ireland), in their grief, inadvertently let loose a beast born from trauma that resides in the shadows and feeds on the fear of children. The creature passes to Will’s family, and while his adult sensibilities do not allow him to believe Sawyer when she proclaims there’s a literal monster lurking in her closet, Sadie takes it upon herself to learn the truth.
Savage cut his teeth on low-tech indie efforts, and it’s great to see that the move to a bigger budget hasn’t dulled his renegade sensibilities. His aesthetic is to try and see events through the eyes of the viewer. This leads to long first-person takes in which either Sadie or Sawyer becomes the audience’s avatar. The sinister events transpiring inside the fluttering outlines of flickering shadows and impenetrable oceans of blackness take on new weight and added meaning, and I could feel for myself the pulsating terror slowly growing inside each sister’s skin.
It helps that director of photography Eli Born (Hellraiser) shoots the heck out of the film, and I loved that his eerie images showcased actual depth. The frame bends to and fro with graceful ferocity, while his use of light from unorthodox or unexpected places is suitably otherworldly. There’s no way any of this works as well as it does without Born’s efforts, the kinetic fluidity of his visuals only augmenting the disquieting spell Savage is attempting to cast.
But the first half of the film is significantly more enthralling than the second, and as strong as the climax may be, there is also something slightly rushed and underwhelming about the resolution. Other than one singularly unsettling surprise when the being is about to fully consume its prey, the actual creature reveal is oddly disappointing. Also, the tension that exists during so much of the film strangely vanishes right when it’s needed the most, and that’s a highly frustrating turn of events.
On the flip side, the actual final scene is awesome, beautifully summing up many of the themes that have been explored while also delivering the final shiver down the spine that thrillers like this practically require if they’re going to send the audience into the lobby satisfied. The acting is also universally excellent, not just Thatcher and Blair. Dastmalchian kills it during his pivotal opening scene, while Messina’s internalized sorrow is undeniably palpable. Ireland is also outstanding, her quietly understated resilience concealing a rage-fueled vengeance that hits like a sledgehammer once it’s been revealed.
I can’t say I did not want more from The Boogeyman, because I obviously did. But with performances and visuals this dynamic, and with a corker of an opening act, there’s much to enjoy about Savage’s first foray into major Hollywood studio–financed thrills and chills. There’s good, often scary stuff hiding in the film’s darkness, all of which helps make this summertime horror offering more treat than trick.
Film Rating: 3 (out of 4)