Chris Messina on facing the Boogeyman, his deepest fears, and horror's relationship with grief

chris messina the boogeyman
(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

We all grew up with stories of the Boogeyman, a monster that would stir in the night, haunting both your dreams and nightmares. But in 1973 the enduring legend became even more immortalized thanks to none other than Stephen King, whose short story The Boogeyman was published in Cavalier Magazine before appearing in the 1978 collection Night Shift. With King being one of the world's most-read authors, even more people were introduced to the terrors of the Boogeyman, who in the beloved author's tale haunts a man named Lester Billings.

50 years on, the story is now being brought to the screen courtesy of director Rob Savage, who signed onto the project after the success of his brilliant lockdown Zoom horror Host. But how do you transform an eight page long short story into a feature? Well, that was a job for writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (who previously brought us the terrifying A Quiet Place) who decided that Billings shouldn't be the main character. Instead, their film would focus on therapist Will Harper, to whom Lester recounts his nightmares in the King story.

Meet the Harpers

The Boogeyman

(Image credit: Disney)

Centring on Will (Chris Messina), we see how Lester (David Dastmalchian) leaves behind the shadow of an evil presence after his visit, a monster that will now feed off the suffering of the Harper family. Will is struggling to connect with his two daughters Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) following the recent tragic death of their mother, and now the Boogeyman has arrived to further tear apart this fracturing family.

Grief and horror have happily existed hand-in-hand for decades now, with The Boogeyman continuing that long relationship. The genre is the perfect vessel for exploring such themes and, as Messina also emphasizes to us, the fact that the Harper family are dealing with something we all have to face helps ground the supernatural elements of the story as we relate to the characters on-screen. 

Speaking to GamesRadar+, the actor explained: "The first meeting I had with Rob, he said you can't have jump scares and screams from the audience unless you have characters that they care about. That was initially why I wanted to do it, there were human beings in here and they were grieving, going through something. Yes, there's a scary monster, but the Boogeyman is really inside of them – it's what they are not facing or dealing with."

Facing their fears

The Boogeyman

(Image credit: 20th century studios)

The Boogeyman represents the unspoken, the family's fears, resentment, pain, and struggles. Although Will is a great therapist, he shuts his own kids out instead of choosing to listen, especially when they start talking about a creature that lurks in the shadows. In a way, then, the Boogeyman is "exactly what the family needed" to help them finally address their issues, as Messina stated: "Will thinks that the trauma of losing their mother is affecting them in ways that they are hearing and seeing things. That scares the hell out of him, to feel that they were broken. So, the less he can believe in a monster or any other problem in the house, the more he can put on blinders to that, thinking the more he would actually heal. But it's quite the opposite and makes for more problems and disaster in the house. When they face it, when they deal with it, they come together."

Facing the Boogeyman though is no easy task given how powerful and terrifying the beast is. Messina adds that shooting these scenes isn't exactly simple either, especially given that he's new to battling CGI creatures: "It was interesting as I had never done anything like that before. You did get some drawings of what the monster would look like and then there was an actor who was so good at pretending to be the monster, he was in a green screen jumpsuit. We would get to wrestle with him and he was phenomenal. But sometimes there would be nothing there and they would say 'it's over here' – it kind of felt silly but since I've never done that before I was also interested in how that filmmaking works and what it requires. It made me have tons of respect for people who do a lot of that stuff. I have now seen the finished monster. I thought it was remarkable, the design, how scary it was – it exceeded my expectations."

Blame it on the Boogey

The Boogeyman

(Image credit: 20th Century Studios)

The film does an excellent job in bringing the legend of this behemoth to life, but does Messina himself believe in the Boogeyman? His answer certainly provides food for thought as he concludes: "I believe that we are all full of fear and we all deal with that differently. Our experiences of the world, what we grew up with, what we are dealt – we carry that. So, I think that we create our own Boogeymen and that's a great part of being alive, is tackling that and moving past it, going into the darkness to find the light."

The Boogeyman is in UK and US cinemas on 2 June. If you want to face more of your fears, we have got you covered with the best horror movies and Stephen King adaptations to watch. And don't forget to read our interview with director Rob Savage for a deeper dive into the movie.

Emily Murray
Entertainment Editor

As Entertainment Editor at GamesRadar, I oversee all the online content for Total Film and SFX magazine. Previously I've worked for the BBC, Zavvi, UNILAD, Yahoo, Digital Spy and more.