The Boogeyman (2023) – Movie Review

The Boogeyman, 2023.

Directed by Rob Savage.
Starring Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, David Dastmalchian, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, Maddie Nichols, Mabel Tyler, Leeann Ross, Rio Sarah Machado, Shauna Rappold, LisaGay Hamilton, and Cristala Carter.


Still reeling from the tragic death of their mother, a teenage girl, and her younger sister find themselves plagued by a sadistic presence in their house and struggle to get their grieving father to pay attention before it’s too late.

Aside from the concept of the creature at the center of The Boogeyman (based on a short story by Stephen King, adapted by A Quiet Place dup Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman) feeding off the fear and vulnerabilities of young children often ignored by their parents, there’s not much originality (and even the tweak I mentioned is not entirely fresh).

Furthermore, given how many modern horror movies center on trauma, the narrative here is even more derivative. Also, throughout every scene of the relatively short 98-minute running time exists the lingering sensation that this is a short story dragged out and adapted into a feature-length narrative, complete with supporting characters and side plots disrupting the otherwise grounded tone about processing grief, infused with topics and themes Stephen King has implemented in his work for decades (some teenage bullies feel ripped right from Carrie, never really contributing much to the greater story).

Yet there is still an urge to recommend The Boogeyman since director Rob Savage (making one hell of a rebound coming off Dashcam, one of the worst and most morally reprehensible movies possibly ever made) is directing the hell out of this while also generating impressive performances from young actors doing so much heavy lifting that there are times it’s easy to overlook how generic and utterly uninspired the plotting is here. By the end, there is an emotional catharsis that does feel earned.

Rob Savage is also not afraid to get wicked right up front, as the film begins with an offscreen death of a young girl by the titular Boogeyman, who can mimic the voices of others, including her father. The dad is Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian, giving a haunting performance despite limited screen time), now a social outcast accused of having murdered his children, although there is no proof. Shamed and depressed with no one willing to believe him, he enters the home of psychological therapist Will Harper (Chris Messina), telling the story about a monster that comes for children when parents neglect them. From there, another tragedy strikes.

Will also happens to be grieving the loss of his wife from a fatal car accident, which is the primary reason Lester comes to him, hoping to find some form of support. “I can’t imagine what you’re going through,” says Will, only for Lester to retort, “Yes, you do, you have children.”

Those children happen to be teenage daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher, another key component to the film somewhat overcoming its shortcomings), struggling to move on from losing her mother and desperately seeking closure, going as far as wearing her mom’s old clothing while being bullied at school for her downbeat mood and behavior (in such cliché fashion that one begins to believe it’s all a setup for some amusement and satisfaction watching the monster kill them, which never comes). The other daughter is young Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, highly impressive for a child actor), who starts seeing the Boogeyman next, already afraid of the dark and increasingly becoming more terrified, clutching any light source she can access, such as a glowing white ball she sleeps with.

Sadie quickly starts believing the terror Sawyer describes while doing investigative research and looking for a sign that her mother is with her from the afterlife. Meanwhile, Will remains absent as the standard dumb parent refusing to believe that something is stalking his daughter. He still has trouble opening up about losing his wife, so he’s mostly useless when it comes to listening to his kids.

Again, none of this is especially new, but Sophie Thatcher is deeply empathetic, finding humanity in this story. She makes us care even when the proceedings are dipping into other subgenres or indulging in a grab bag of Stephen King tropes (some of which, such as the bullying, don’t feel authentic here). The bond with her sister is also moving and genuine. There are also some tense sequences clever in design (Sawyer creatively and resourcefully uses the brightness from a weapon being fired in a video game to light up her surroundings) and aesthetically gripping (a room flashing between darkness and red as an exercise in therapy foolishly trying to convince Sawyer that there is nothing to be afraid of).

The Boogeyman successfully uses striking direction, suspenseful craftsmanship, and emotional performances to distract from overwhelming familiarity; it’s a solid example of something compelling created from the oldest concepts in the book, or in this case, Stephen King stories.

Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★  / Movie: ★ ★ ★

Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at [email protected]


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