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My thoughts on The Boogeyman
Originally published in 1978, Stephen King’s Night Shift collected 19 short stories he wrote during the early part of his career that had been published in such magazines as Cavalier, Penthouse and Cosmopolitan. Over the years, the contents have proven to be fertile ground for filmmakers wanting to bring his work to the screen—of the 19 stories in the collection, 11 of them have been adapted for either film or television and that is not even counting the various sequels or remakes that those films have inspired over that time or the so-called “Dollar Baby” projects in which King has allowed student filmmakers to adapt his short stories in exchange for a nominal fee of $1 and a promise of no commercial release. Some of these adaptations have been quite good (such as the takes on “Quitters Inc.” and “The Ledge” found in Cat’s Eye), some have been quite awful (including the various permutations of Children of the Corn and the bizarre then-futurist take on The Lawnmower Man) and one, Maximum Overdrive, King’s own take on the story “Trucks,” has gone on to a prominent position in Bad Movie history.
The latest film to emerge from its pages is The Boogeyman and my guess is that if I had to rank all of the adaptations in terms of quality, it would probably wind up somewhere in the middle of the pack. On the one hand, it is a film that has been made with a certain degree of undeniable technical skill and contains some good performances and a couple of fairly effective scare moments. On the other hand, while this take on the story does hew closer to the source material than some of its brethren, the additions brought in to expand a tale that, on paper, was literally nothing more than two people sitting in a room, are not always successful and the film as a whole ends up being a little too familiar at times for its own good, especially in the scare department.
As the film opens, 16-year-old Sadie Harper (Sophie Thatcher) and her 10-year-old sister Sawyer (Vivian Lyra Blair) are preparing to return to school for the first time since their mother’s recent death in a car accident. While they are gone, their father, Will (Chris Messina), a psychiatrist who has been emotionally unavailable to his children since the accident, agrees to see a strange patient named Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), who tells a sad and horrifying about the deaths of his three young children, which he seems to suggest were caused by some—well, some thing that was hiding in the dark of the bedroom closet. Will naturally suspects that the so-called “boogeyman” is just a manifestation of his guilt and when it appears that the man has hung himself in the house while he was on the phone with the police, that confirms it for him.
Unable to reach out to either her father or her fair-weather friends, the alienated Sadie begins to investigate on her own and, after a visit to Lester’s former wife (Marin Ireland), comes to realize that the boogeyman is, in fact, real after all. Not only does this one thrive on lurking in the dark, it also likes to specifically target those who are hurt and vulnerable. Between their current shared trauma and Sawyer’s own profound fear of the dark, the creature naturally decides to switch its focus to the Harpers. Still unable to convince her father about the reality of what is going on, Sadie takes it upon herself to battle the creature before it can destroy here and the rest of her family.
Obviously there was no practical way to do a faithful full-length film version of King’s original story, though it might have made for a nifty Twilight Zone episode or as a section of a multi-story compilation along the lines of Creepshow or Cat’s Eye. In adapting the story, co-writers Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman have taken some portions from it and grafted them on to a new narrative with decidedly mixed results. The key problem is that once Sadie figures out what she is dealing with, there is still a long way to go before the inevitable final confrontation. Unfortunately, most of that time is dedicated to stuff that is little more than filler that leaves the narrative treading water for long stretches of time, much of it is dedicated either to people doing very dumb things or scenes involving the discomfiting family dynamic between the Harpers that remain fairly static for far too long. The other major problem is that what was once a quick gut-punch of a story has been transformed into a metaphor on trauma and how it continues to grow and fester if not dealt with properly, a conceit that has become so familiar in recent years that there are times here where it verges on self-parody.
Amid the familiar trappings, there are a few interesting elements to be had here and there. Although her character is fairly cliched, Thatcher (who plays the younger version of Juliette Lewis in Yellowjackets) gives a solid central performance as Sadie while Ireland delivers a spiky extended cameo appearance that is the latest in a series of solid genre film appearances for her. Director Rob Savage (whose previous films included the pretty good Zoom-inspired horror film Host and the dreadful Dashcam) doesn’t quite manage to tell a completely compelling story but he does do a pretty good job of establish a reasonably creepy mood throughout. In one of the neater sequences, Sawyer is sitting in a darkened room playing a video game and winds up using the lights emitted from the explosions on the TV screen to fend off an attack—the effect is so impressive that it is only later that you will find yourself wondering why the child, who is still terrified of the dark, would be sitting in such a poorly illuminated room in the first place.
The Boogeyman isn’t so much bad as it is kind of “meh”—it doesn’t give any of the surprise thrills or twists that transformed last summer’s adaptation of a King short story, The Black Phone, into one of last year’s more effective genre outings. This one, by comparison, is okay enough on the surface and the combination of the PG-13 levels of gore and terror and the use of a teenaged girl at its center suggest that it could find its place as a sort of starter film for younger viewers interested in dabbling in the horror genre but who would prefer to dip their toes instead of plunging right in. Those who have seen more than a few horror movies in their time, however, are likely to regard it as an overly familiar programmer that contains a few points of genuine interest here and there, though simply not enough of them to make the whole thing into anything of note.