Two things will always have a place to be replicated within the horror genre –darkness (both in the physical and mental reality) and an affinity to adapt Stephen King's stories. Who could blame them? We’ve had classic films like Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, and Misery as prime examples of how these can work on a bigger scale. It gets tricky to look into King’s short stories and build them into a feature-length extravaganza. We’ve seen Children of The Corn have this issue. Director Rob Savage jumps into the original concept of King’s 1973, The Boogeyman, anchored on the back of some effective jump scares and imagery and a cast that is committed to the dreary and melancholy mood writers Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman have fleshed out – even if it’s derivatives of other films of it’s ilk.
Right from the beginning, The Boogeyman sets out to create a jarring atmosphere – focusing on an infant’s crib with a baby alone in a room and an evil presence left to its own nefarious devices to do the unthinkable. It sets the tone for the thickness of grief that coates the film – particularly with one family who recently lost a mother to a car accident. Will (Chris Messina), his high school daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), and her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) are just trying to get by the best they can.
The first time we see Sadie, she goes through her mother’s closet, reaches out for a dress to wear, and takes in the scent. Will is a psychiatrist, which is interesting because as he takes clients to talk about their issues, he refuses to acknowledge the significant loss he experienced. This causes a schism between him and Sadie – a person trying to be there for her younger sister while trying to find her way. Her school friends aren’t a great help (hell, they are a tad bit too mean to her). Sawyer sleeps with many lights in her room – a circular globe light.
While our main characters are established, The Boogeyman rooted itself in horror derived from King’s premise in the form of an unexpected visitor. A disheveled man named Lester (with an effectively creepy performance from David Dastmalchian) visits Will at his home and asks for an immediate consolation. Having sympathy, Will obliges and hears his story. It turns out the first child and two others of Lester’s children were murdered, and the blame was placed at his feet. However, Lester proclaims it was not by his hand, but something profoundly darker he can’t explain.
After another upsetting calamity, it’s apparent that something is after the kids in the household. To Savage’s credit, he uses the setting of how hollow and dry everything feels to play on the audience's minds. The tragically deceased mother was a painter, and her art room, which looked vibrant, has a chill to it – at least metaphorically. Certain moments happen throughout the film where Savage uses the eyes of the monster or light from a video game to enhance the scare experience – often, it works. In others, it feels like what you typically get (let’s look under the bed).
Other than that, the performances keep you engaged with The Boogeyman – in all actuality, it could just be a film about how to deal with the loss of a loved one. Sophie Thatcher is effective as Sadie, a young teenager trying to navigate being a caretaker but also finding an outlet to share her sorrow. Vivien Lyra Blair has instances of quick humor and brings a bit of innocence to this story. Messina’s portrayal wraps around a father who has to be strong for his daughters but doesn’t know how to help himself like he does others. It’s a good family dynamic.
There’s not much explained about the lore of The Boogeyman other than possible ways to fight it. One can think it’s a metaphor for grief itself – a trope expounded upon many times throughout the horror genre. It’s relenting, creeps up on you when you least expect it, and is almost suffocating – this is everything the monster is. For all the strengths the visual and acting has, the story’s threads are thin even with an hour-and-a-half plus runtime. It’s an issue other King adaptations have encountered – where do you go after the actual tale has presented itself? The Boogeyman borrows from a lot of previous lore to pad itself out.
This isn’t to say the film doesn’t have a solid foundation in some areas. Concerning recent adaptations like Firestarter, The Boogeyman gives you more to root for. With that in mind, more could have been devoted to why this aberration exists than just the mood of it.