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  • Writer's pictureRob Binns

The Boogeyman (2023) Review

"Killed my kids. One at a time. Killed them all."

Warning! This Boogeyman 2023 review contains spoilers. Proceed at your own peril!

The Boogeyman (2023) takes a question all of us, at some point during our childhood, will have wondered – eyes searching the darkened bedroom, blockaded behind our scrunched up covers for comfort – about our closet….

…what if there really was a monster in there?

Well, in The Boogeyman – spoilers, of course, pending – there is. And this, being an attempt at a horror with a little more thematic depth than its early oughties counterparts, the monster isn’t just literal, but metaphorical, too. (Grief; it’s grief).

Extrapolated (and loosely at that) from a short story by Stephen King, The Boogeyman follows the Harper family: patriarch Dr Will (Chris Messina) and his daughters Sadie (Yellowjackets’ Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair from M3GAN), all still reeling from the loss of their wife and mother.

Sophie Thatcher in the toilet cubicle in The Boogeyman 2023

As the movie opens up, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) isn't in the best of headspaces.

After a rather goofy cold open in which we see a shadowy presence creep into a baby’s room and kill them (with the blood that spatters on a nearby picture reminding me of an even goofier – nay, the goofiest – short film I made with a couple of mates in 2009; it’s called The Entity: The Legend of the Click-Click-Slide), we meet Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian).

David Dastmalchian stares into space as Lester Billings in The Boogeyman 2023

David Dastmalchian is good in everything, isn't he?

Lester Billings is the subject of the original Stephen King short story. The premise has Billings sitting in Dr Harper’s office, relating the “murders” of his three children over the past few years. We get an unreliable narrator-type yarn, in which, while Billings leads us to believe the deaths were caused by some nightmarish “boogeyman” from the darkness, we – as the readers – think the creature is simply a dark manifestation of Billings’s sick mind. The story ends (SPOILERS: but the story’s been out for 45 years, so…) with Dr Harper being revealed as the boogeyman in disguise.

It sounds kinda silly, but weirdly, it works – and it’s this story (bar the batshit crazy ending) that informs the scene with Billings we get in the movie now.

Upon explaining his situation to Dr Harper, Billings makes his way upstairs as Dr Harper – believing Billings to be insane – phones the police in the kitchen. When Sadie and the doctor realise that there’s an unhinged man in the house, however, it’s already too late – Billings ends up dead, in the closet, in an apparent suicide. Sadie’s not convinced, though – she heard Billings struggling with something before he was found strung up by his neck on the back of the closet’s inner door. What was it?

Sophier Thatcher as Sadie Harper does the laundry in The Boogeyman 2023

Sadie does the laundry, unaware of the silhouette that lurks beyond her.

Interspersed, we get insights into Sadie’s school life as she grapples with the loss of her mum. She wears her mum’s dress to school; gets picked on by horrible ‘friend’ Natalie (Maddie Nichols); struggles with the fact that her oldest pal Bethany (Madison Hu) is in with a fresh, clique-y crowd of vapid and vacuous new homies. At home, Sadie’s relationship with her father is clearly strained: though he’s in the business of listening as a psychiatrist, he’s not making such a good fist of it as a father.

Chris Messina as Dr Will Harper in The Boogeyman 2023

Chris Messina stars as Dr Harper.

As the film progresses, it becomes clear that Lester’s death was the harbinger for the entry of a malicious force into the Harper home. Voices that sound like their own come from cupboards; doors slam as if of their own free will. We get a scene in which Sadie, helping Sawyer remove a baby tooth that’s coming loose, wraps one end of a string around the tooth, and the other around the door knob. The door slams by itself, but it’s the later scene – in the darkness, when the girls have gone to bed, and we see the tooth on the string pulled by an unknown hand into the blackness – that really sends shivers.

Sawyer Harper looks under the bed in The Boogeyman 2023

Upside down shots are fun.

Rob Savage’s direction is capable, albeit safe. And, bar the odd upside-down shot or slow swivel pan, it takes few risks. This feels like a studio movie made for a mass-market audience – leveraging the success of Stephen King’s name and standing on the shoulders of films like Evil Dead Rise and Barbarian (both films originally pitched for streaming services that did so well with test audiences they earned theatrical releases). The Boogeyman feels cut from a similar cloth – studios trying their hand at that kind of horror that’s just scary enough to appeal to established genre fans, while having enough of that pulsating pull to lure in a more mainstream audience (and their wallets).

In the film, however, the eponymous boogeyman is beginning to terrorise the family. They go to see Dr Weller (LisaGay Hamilton), but it doesn’t help; nor is the sceptical Dr Harper any use at home. This, actually, is what The Boogeyman (the film, not the creature) does well – it taps into our fear of not being believed. As a kid in this situation – when your credibility as a witness, especially in the face of the incredible, is so limited – Sawyer is easy to empathise with as her complaints about this sinister force overtaking the Harpers’ home fall on increasingly deaf ears.

LisaGay Hamilton as Dr Weller, bathed in red light, in The Boogeyman 2023

LisaGay Hamilton stars as Dr Weller.

Until Sadie starts believing. It’s this bond, this chemistry and camaraderie between Thatcher and Blair as actors, that lays the foundations for the film’s believable, resonant emotional heartbeat (even if it’s one that does, at times, feel forced). We see the pair navigate the grief of their characters together, providing each other with an emotional crutch against the terror of what they don’t know (the thing in the closet) and the horror of what they do (their grief, and their father’s unwillingness to listen to them).

Anyways, while its title and all early signs suggest that the boogeyman is a creeping, insidious force (it did, after all, take years dismantling the doomed Billings brood), the film devolves into a relatively straight-shooting creature feature. Rather than a spindly, shadow-like presence that ebbs away when you turn on the light, the film’s titular boogeyman feels like flesh and blood. When Lester Billings’s wife, Rita (Marin Ireland) lays a trap for it, nailing it from multiple angles with a shotgun, the boogeyman collapses, seemingly dead (before proceeding to get back up and maul Rita to death).

From this point in the film onwards, its MO seems less to scare and terrify (tenderising its meat, through fear, in a similar way as Pennywise did in another Stephen King feature you might have heard of); but to simply chase, hunt, and kill.

Sawyer Harper, cast in green light, runs from the titular creature in The Boogeyman 2023

Fans of The Boogeyman (2023) will be hoping the sequel gets the green light.

The Boogeyman plays fairly fast and loose with its own rules (is the Billings’ boogeyman the same one haunting the Harpers? Are there multiple? Is this a race of alien beings, or are the boogeymen simply manifestations of the most toxic human emotions?), but the final act is exciting nevertheless. The Harpers (perhaps with a little help from their deceased matriarch) fend off the Boogeyman in the basement, killing it with fire as the house burns.

The eponymous boogeyman in The Boogeyman 2023

When the camera finally lingers long enough to show off the boogeyman up close, we get some neat creature work.

The final scene shows the three in Dr Weller’s office, talking it through. At the very end, we hear the doctor – off-screen; bear in mind, we know at this late stage that the boogeyman can mimic the voices of people it hears – call Sadie back in.

HERE IT IS!” we think, knowing that THIS is going to be the moment in the film that hearkens back to Steve King’s O.G. short story. Is Dr Weller about to whip off her face and reveal herself as the boogeyman, a violent visage lurking beneath the mask of the mundane? But no – Savage chooses (cleverly, I’d say) to subvert these expectations from King fans. And, after a bit of suspense, the credits roll as Sadie slams the closet door, Dr Weller looking on perplexed.

Still, we’re led to believe that there may be more boogeymen out there – where else did that voice come from, after all?

Ultimately, The Boogeyman (2023) won’t be the best horror film to hit theatres in 2023 (that gong, to be fair, has already almost certainly been snapped up by Talk to Me). It’s a fairly middle-of-the-road outing that does well to adapt its slender source material into almost 100 minutes of film. There are too many jump scares – and too many wholly ineffectual jump scares to boot – without the requisite world- or character- building we’ve come to expect from elevated contemporary genre fare. And, while the creature work is excellent, it feels as though some missing piece of the monster’s lore is missing – as though it’s lacking the right rhyme or reason; some fundamental, foundational reason for it to exist.

It’s a problem the movie suffers from, too. But it’s still entertaining, and should have enough kinetic thrills and chills to satisfy horror fans – particularly those raised, like myself, on the meat and potatoes of Stephen King’s short stories. If you’re keen to get your hands on a copy, it’s in Stevie’s 1978 collection Night Shift – flanked by both a prequel (and sequel) to Salem’s Lot, a companion piece to The Stand, and the legendary Gray Matter, which was adapted as an episode of Greg Nicotero’s Creepshow series in 2019.

Night Shift also contains the stories that inspired two of the segments of 1985 horror anthology Cat’s Eye, plus Maximum Overdrive (1986) – to date, Stephen King’s only foray behind the camera; and for excellent reason – the Robert Englund vehicle The Mangler (1995), the Children of the Corn series, and Graveyard Shift (1990), starring Brad Dourif and Andrew Divoff of Wishmaster (1997) fame. Infamously, the story The Lawnmower Man ‘inspired’ a strange VR-related film of the same name starring Pierce Brosnan. But the film bore so little resemblance to the original that King sued to have his name removed. Yikes!

In Australia, you can stream The Boogeyman on YouTube, Amazon Prime, or Apple TV for just $14.99. If you liked this Boogeyman review, be sure to check out my critical deep-dives into more of the latest and most vintage genre fare, including my:

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