Stephen King Adaptation ‘The Boogeyman’ Is a Real ‘Baba’-Dupe

This horror movie about the monster in the closet shoots for iconic but lands in generic.

Stephen King Adaptation ‘The Boogeyman’ Is a Real ‘Baba’-Dupe
Screenshot:YouTube/20th Century Studios

Spoilers below.

Yet another incrementally menacing monster haunts yet another grieving family in yet another horror movie that, despite having nothing new to say and not being particularly scary or stylish, has received surprisingly solid reviews. Rob Savage’s The Boogeyman was set for release on Hulu, but got bumped up to a theatrical release this weekend as the result of good test screenings. If this movie is remembered at all in the future, it will be as evidence of a kind of prestige-blindness that has settled on the current horror audience and especially critics via somber tones and adult themes. Yep, you guessed it: This one’s about trauma, too.

Or maybe The Boogeyman is just proof positive of the chronic hunger for horror movies, period. Sometimes it feels like any one will do, though The Boogeyman is actually several movies that we’ve already seen in one: It comes cloaked in The Babadook’s clothes (though this time, the family is reeling from the recent death of the mother, not the father), and the monster is a ringer for those in A Quiet Place. This movie is swimming in visual cliches like a rattled child walking through a dimly lit, presence-touched house and closet doors that are ajar. In a year that the challenging art horror flick Skinamarink tapped into the same kind of primal fears in a far more visually and narratively inventive manner, The Boogeyman just seems like kids’ stuff.

It is decently acted—Sophie Thatcher plays protagonist Sadie, who is determined to find out what’s haunting her family after a patient of her therapist hot-dad Will (Chris Messina) kills himself in their home. At least—that’s what the police think. Sadie, who heard weird…noises when the supposed act was taking place, knows better. She’s going through it in that affective has-a-dead-mom way, but she’s also going through literal stuff—her mom’s left-behind belongings, her dad’s office for clues about the dead guy—to figure out the source of the terror inflicted on her family, which also includes a younger sister, Sawyer (Bird Box’s Vivien Lyra Blair). Her quest leads her to the dead guy’s widow, Rita (Marin Ireland), who is dirt-smeared and difficult but not quite hostile, much like Anne Heche’s character in I Know What You Did Last Summer. Thatcher, incidentally, rocks a hairstyle similar to that which Billie Eilish has had, and her features are similar enough that after a while my brain just accepted her as Eilish. The movie was moderately more interesting as a result.

The Boogeyman features your usual array of jump scares and unsettling, PG-13-friendly imagery that’s just at the cusp of gore. After smoking a joint of her mother’s with some friends (in her bedroom without even opening a window), Sadie has a coughing fit and pulls from her throat the tooth that she earlier (and with some apparitional help) extracted from her sister’s throat with a string. So that’s new. The Boogeyman is your garden-variety monster who is deadly enough but restrains himself from actually killing the principal characters because, after all, the movie has to be long enough to justify its existence. The movie sets up the final battle to be not just teen vs. monster, but teen vs. her own fear. We’re given indications that we’ll be seeing a “I’m not afraid of you” resolution a la A Nightmare on Elm Street, It, and oh yeah, The Babadook: Will literally tells one of his clients, “Where there is fear, there is your task.” But then it just turns out good old fire destroys the Boogeyman, as well as all the stuff of her mother’s that Sadie had been hanging onto. It seems like the final lesson we’re to derive is less about facing one’s demons and more about getting rid of your old shit.

It seems like the final lesson we’re to derive is less about facing one’s demons and more about getting rid of your old shit.

When you name your movie The Boogeyman, you are clearly shooting for iconic, but this movie makes clear that if you can’t bring the narrative innovation, you risk turning in something that’s generic. This movie is so uninspired that a few times, I had to think about what exactly I was supposed to be scared of. Technically, of course, The Boogeyman was inspired by a short story included in Stephen King’s 1978 collection Night Shift, in which a disturbed dad tells a therapist about the recent “murders” of his children, who cried out, “The Boogeyman!” before dying mysteriously in their rooms. Their closet doors were ajar when their bodies were discovered. It’s a story whose payoff is a knockout: The dad returns to the therapist’s office to find it empty and the closet door ajar. The Boogeyman then emerges holding a mask of the therapist’s face. It’s really chilling—I never forgot that image after reading the short story on a car ride in my youth.

The movie’s epilogue is set up to deliver a similar ending: The recovering family meets with a therapist and wraps their session. They leave, but Sadie hears the therapist call her back in, only to find an empty room with its closet door ajar. After the therapist emerges from the other side of the room, Sadie closes the closet door, another assertion of her recovery from her haunting. And so, The Boogeyman signals one final scare that could make it all worthwhile and then pulls the punch. Maddening.

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