When is a renaissance not a renaissance? When it’s a Stephen King-aissance. Six years after Pennywise’s rebirth, the King-film industry has produced the patchy likes of It Chapter Two, Firestarter, Doctor Sleep and Pet Sematary. Salem’s Lot is MIA. Now, Brit director Rob Savage mines a King short story for a mix of mourning allegory and monster movie that’s fitfully scary but also ill-plotted, clichéd and murky.
With predecessors Host and Dashcam, Savage made wickedly resourceful work of no-budget webcam conceits. Without that framework, he struggles to distinguish the sketchy script by duo Scott Beck/Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place, 65) and Mark Heyman, which softens and simplifies King’s curt, nasty tale.
Here, the focus falls on widowed psychologist Will Harper (Chris Messina). Father to Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), Will is visited unexpectedly in his practice by the twitchy Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), who insists he didn’t kill his own kids. Yikes. When Lester departs, a beady-eyed presence remains in the family’s closets, ready for when the lights dim.
Which is most of the time. The Boogeyman is so half-lit, you fancy most of the Harpers’ problems could be remedied by better bulbs. This perma-dark styling gives the monster shadows to lurk in, but it’s a decision driven by expediency over logic. Likewise, Will’s on-screen absences function to leave his daughters vulnerable without being fully explained, beyond hints about his fears of confronting grief.
Bolstered by Patrick Jonsson’s classy score, Savage crafts some efficient jump scares, milking the basics of small-hours whispers, half-open doors, under-bed areas and blind corners for tension. You might think twice before smoking your late mum’s half-finished joint afterwards, too. The creeping camera flips upside down, climbs walls and traces moon lamps into shadowy spaces to stoke a response, which works well until we’re shown too much.
Without spoiling anything, a perfunctory but workable enough fable of grief’s effects slowly devolves into something blunter. Thatcher and Blair capably suggest sorrow, terror and chemistry as the sisters, but their subtextual efforts are diminished when an overly literalised, Quiet Place-ish creature leads to a climax straight out of Arachnophobia. As in King’s story, The Boogeyman might have worked better with the closet door ajar, "just a crack," tempting your imagination to fill the gaps.
The Boogeyman is in UK and US cinemas on 2 June. For more upcoming movies, check out our breakdown of 2023 movie release dates.