This week, a new adaptation of Stephen King’s The Boogeyman creeps into theaters. The project has some truly big names attached to it—director Rob Savage, writers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, and produced by the Duffer brothers of Stranger Things glory. The cast is beyond talented as well, with stars like Sophie Thatcher (Yellowjackets), Vivien Lyra Blair (Obi-Wan Kenobi), and scene-stealer David Dastmalchian (The Suicide Squad).
So with all that talent and intense source material…why doesn’t it feel scarier?
The Boogeyman certainly delivers in some areas, the foremost being character design. Like all the classic monster movies, you don’t actually see the Boogeyman for most of the film; it’s just a sketch, a sound, a pair of eyes in the dark. The more the characters believe in the monster, the more we get to see, and when we get the full picture…yikes.
It’s always a pleasant, terrifying surprise when a horror movie shows you a monster you weren’t quite prepared to see, like Bathsheba’s sudden appearance in The Conjuring or the additional glimpses of the creature in Blair Witch (2016). The Boogeyman does a great job of pacing their reveals through silhouettes and quick glimpses. With each passing scene, I expected that to be the end of it, but they just kept serving more and more. By the finale, you’ve got a truly nightmare-inducing creature.
What The Boogeyman lacks, though, is consistent logic. The only piece of monster lore we really get is that people who are “weak and suffering” are especially vulnerable to the Boogeyman because it feeds on pain and likes to toy with its victims; even that isn’t fully explained. We only get to see it “feed” on one person, and all its victims are attacked in totally different ways. It seemingly haunts two different houses, but there’s no telling how it travels between them or what exactly it’s tied to. It’s even hinted that there may be more than one of them.
On the positive side, that makes the story hard to predict. Just like the film skillfully paces the reveal of the monster, it plays with pace of the plot and camerawork to make each scare more effective. There are long, drawn-out sequences full of tension and dread that immediately slam into overdrive with an unexpected attack. The constant vacillation does a good job keeping you on the edge of your seat.
On the downside, it makes the movie feel disconnected. The threat of the Boogeyman doesn’t perfectly fit with the subplot of discovering whether or not our loved ones can stick around as ghosts. The dark mildew and slimy vines are certainly creepy (and a Duffer Brothers signature) but are never actually addressed. There’s a whole subplot about Thatcher’s character being bullied and berated by her catty classmates, which is used to start more conflict, but never resolved. (Okay, so I’m a little bitter that the bully wasn’t eaten by the Boogeyman.)
There’s only one law the movie seems to abide by: the Boogeyman can do scary things. It does what the writers want it to do and goes where the writers need it to go in order to effectively scare the audience. For a lot of people, that’s enough. For others, it just feels like a collection of scenes and half-told stories held together by a spooky concept.