Loosely inspired by Stephen King’s short story “The Boogeyman”, “The Boogeyman” is a horror film that manages to entertain and offer its own authentic dose of fear while playing with one of King’s key storytelling themes, such as mourning. Rob Savage’s direction guarantees tension and a certain elegance, although the development is perhaps too straightforward and (inevitably) a bit predictable.
Who lives in this closet?
In 2023, the story of Stephen King, in cinema, is more than ever a harbinger of inspiration, an inexhaustible source of film adaptations that often replace or supplement those already filmed decades ago. It was a case, the last, recent – and not entirely memorable – This, Pet cemetery AND Arsonists, inspired by famous novels already ported over in the 80s and 90s; However, it is not boogeymanwhich takes as its model (rather loosely) the story known in Italy as babaucontained in the collection Sometimes they come back. A story, Qinghian, belonging to the category of the writer’s stories, distinguished by greater simplicity, but capable of concentrating tension precisely in the brevity and essentiality of the main idea. The idea, which, however, in this film by Rob Savage – a director already an expert in this genre – is his merit in the recent and well-received video recorders – develops and expands, with a plot based on mourning, loss and the materialization of childhood horrors: all themes, in retrospect, are very dear to the story of the writer from Maine.
Creature of darkness
At the center of the story boogeyman there is the Harper family, consisting of psychiatrist Will and daughters Sadie and Sawyer; the three have yet to recover from the recent death of their mother, who died suddenly in a car accident. While Sawyer’s youngest daughter suffers from frequent nightmares, Will attempts to dull the pain by obsessively devoting himself to work, ultimately neglecting the dialogue and support of his daughters, who feel he is absent and distracted. One day, a restless, delusional patient breaks into a psychiatrist’s home, convinced that he is being pursued by an evil being that would kill his three children. While Will, incredulous and worried that the man might harm his family, decides to call the police, Sadie, present at the house, finds his body hanging in a closet; a macabre discovery further undermines the peace of the family, whose delicate balance seems about to collapse. Since then, little Sawyer’s nightmares seem more and more real, with frequent visions of the creature supposedly lurking in her closet or under her bed; while Sadie herself is ultimately convinced that the entity the suicide was talking about was real and that it is now targeting his family.
Something more… and something less
Plot boogeyman therefore expands on the original concept of the story, however almost completely removes the narrative weight of the protagonist’s profession (here only useful for plot initiation, through a suicide ruse). In this sense, the film is both more ambitious and “narrative” than the original story, built entirely on the unity of time and place, on the interaction of therapist and patient, and less developed in a purely psychological aspect; the latter aspect is true at least where the alleged mental disorder – an element shared by the two works – crosses over unconscious fears and finally the supernatural. This is because the screenplay, written by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (of screenwriting Quiet placeand recently directors from the fantasy thriller 65 – Escape from Earth) decides to focus heavily on the element of grief and loss, on the feeling of emptiness turning into fear, and on the malignant entity that decides to feed on that same emptiness, strengthening itself through the psychological fragility of its victims. In doing so, on the one hand, the film restores Kinga’s strong narrative theme, and on the other, it outlines the contagion motif already seen in some of the later horrors (the famous Should and the most derived smiley) with the transfer of horror from one person to another, hitting a person where he is most vulnerable.
Horror is not devoid of elegance
Rob Savage directs boogeyman safely and not without a certain elegance, often focusing on the fear of jumping (a very relevant device throughout the 98 minutes of the film), but also managing to create a certain suspense and genre tension based mainly on the unseen. In that sense, the decision to keep the creature in the shadows—except for very quick (non-)revealing glimpses—virtually until the end of the movie, and then show the digital design, this time well done and not obvious, is noticeable. In this sense, the director refers to the play of shadow and light of such a name as Lights Out – Horror in the dark (which surprisingly worked – much – better in the short dimension than in its subsequent expansion); but also to the “mythical” and archetypal status of a supernatural threat loaded with allusion to ancestors, which was typical of a small modern cult like babadook. Two elements that, combined with the management of space (especially the interior of the house), which has something of a James Wan movie to it, make for a horror film capable of entertaining with good visual construction, but also generating that minimum of empathy needed to to convey to the viewer the growing preoccupation of the protagonists.
The limit, unfortunately, is not secondary, boogeyman, however, is to present a narrative structure largely already seen, easily predictable at major turning points in the story, and with little ability to displace as a whole other than concentrating a horrific effect in one sequence. The plot, when you go (re)watch it after watching it, stays too linear and free of thrusts, content to take the viewer through familiar and (paradoxically for horror) hopeful territories. The decision to take the story into another territory, sacrificing almost entirely, as we have indicated above, the component most associated with neuroses and obsessions, leads to the elimination from the equation of one of the most important elements of King’s narrative, also present in the original story: the story of the invasion of the supernatural in everyday life and the difficulties of the rational mind to accept (and include in its empirical horizon) its existence. In this sense, the potential of a character like Will, played by Chris Messinaremains clearly underutilized due to its concentration on the theme of mourning, which, however, by itself does not fully support the narrative weight of the story.
Enclosed in a somewhat creaky confrontation in terms of logic and internal coherence (but this can be forgiven for a genre film) boogeyman it partly remakes itself with an intellectual counterfinal that, instead of triggering a hypothetical sequel, symbolically affirms the need (and possibility) to leave the horror behind, realizing that evil may be knocking at the door again. It is enough to know how to handle it correctly.
Original name: boogeyman
Director: Rob Savage
Country/year: USA, Canada / 2023
Throw: David Dastmalchian, Sophie Thatcher, Vivienne Lyra Blair, Chris Messina, Marin Ireland, Lisa Gay Hamilton, Han Soto, Aadin Encalarde, Crystala Carter, Daniel Hagen, Ellie Bogert, Leanne Ross, Maddie Nichols, Madison Hu, Maisie Bogert, Noah Brand, Rio Sara Machado, Ceylan Baxter, Shauna Reppold, Shyla Bagheera
Screenplay: Mark Heyman, Bryan Woods, Scott Beck
Photo: Eli Born
Assembly: Petr Gvozdas
Music: Patrick Jonsson
Director: Dan Cohen, Dan Levine, Shawn Levy
Production house: NeoReel, 20th Century Studios, 21 Laps Entertainment
Distribution: Walt Disney Pictures
Release date: 01/06/2023
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