One of the signs you've made it as a horror director is when you tackle a film adaptation of Stephen King. Carpenter, Hooper and Romero all did it, and even James Wan is hard at work trying to make one happen. No wonder then that Rob Savage the maestro behind pandemic webcam shocker Host, and controversial found footage chiller Dashcam would take to the King of Maine for his first big studio venture.
Savage directs The Boogeyman, taken from the short story of the same name by King. The film expands on the premise of the short story – originally published in a magazine before being collected in a collection of stories – Night Shift. The film follows Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), still dealing with the untimely death of her mother. Trying to keep her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) grounded while their psychiatrist dad Will (Chris Messina) refuses to deal with his grief. When a distressed man hangs himself in their house, a creature appears to have followed and begins slowly preying on them.
Given this is adapted by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck who gave us the thrillingly fun A Quiet Place, it's no surprise that this is a fun thrill ride of a movie. Savage, having honed his craft on low-fi movies made when the world was shut down, has all the toys available to a man making a movie for the House of Mouse (though technically 20th Century Studios). Savage can time a jump scare to perfection so it's no surprise this is as fun to watch as his previous two films. It helps that this avoids the problematic nature of Dashcam and the obvious homemade elements of Host.
The film's central theme of grief being something that rips at those who cannot confront it is fertile ground that the cast sink their teeth into. Savage is smart enough to let some emotional scenes just roll, and to time a good few laughs in there too. It's a rollercoaster movie, made to be seen with a packed Friday night audience, but that doesn't mean it can't plunge the depths of the human soul at the same time.
The writers have clearly deviated from King's source story. The short is sort of done, in which a harrowed Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian looking as strung out as ever) tells Dr Harper his story, how his kids warned him of the Boogeyman but he didn't heed them. The gut punch of the short story isn't played here, and the film only uses this as a vague exposition dump instead of the meat of the story instead going off in it's own direction.
It's drawing of secondary characters is shallow, Sadie's only friend has hints at a storyline that is never fully explored, and a mean girl trope doesn't add anything to the story. There's also two other friends who do nothing. Even LisaGay Hamilton promises creepy jumps but her role leads to nothing. It's down to the fact that really the film is more interested in the Harper family grappling with their unresolved grief.
Messina is suitably tired looking as a father who can't quite reconcile his own grief with the needs of his two children, and is as endearing as you would expect. But really the film belongs to both Thatcher and Blair. Thatcher, having recently walked off with Yellowjackets Season Two MVP title brings that same fractured strength to Sadie. Her stern resolve and desire to process her emotions give the film it's weight, and aids in the dour atmosphere that keeps things in the human realm even with a monster running around. Blair is the same firecracker she was in Obi-Wan Kenobi, a winning screen presence who lands some of the films biggest laughs and most shocking jumps. The two of them carry the film through a thrilling if a little obvious third act.
What the film wants to be is a metaphor for the grieving process and how if we let things fester in the darkness they will thrive, but when we bring them into the light, we can triumph. Not bad for a film that also seeks to be sh*t your pants scary in the process. Savage, to his credit, has crafted a film that is both in equal measure. You just might have to sleep with the lights on after.
The Boogeyman releases in UK cinemas on 2nd June.