Although it is based on a Stephen King short story, the new horror movie THE BOOGEYMAN (2023) is an exercise in lazy storytelling that suffers from overused horror movie tropes and weak character development.
It also has a horrible title. THE BOOGEYMAN? Not only is it lame, but it calls to mind BOOGEYMAN (2005) which was an absolutely dreadful horror movie. THE BOOGEYMAN is at least better than BOOGEYMAN, so I’ll give it that.
THE BOOGEYMAN is the story of a family— the dad Will Harper (Chris Messina), who’s a psychiatrist, his high school-aged daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), and his youngest daughter Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair)— who are all grieving over the recent death of Will’s wife and the girls’ mom, but just how recent and more importantly how she died is never explained. So, while we get to see this family behaving somewhat dysfunctionally early on, we don’t really get a feel for their angst since so little is known about it, other than the general “loss of a loved one.”
When a strange and obviously disturbed man shows up unexpectedly at Will’s practice, which is located inside the Harper home, the man, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) tells Will that his children are all dead and that while he will be blamed for their deaths, it wasn’t him, but some creature who his kids tried to tell him about, but he obviously didn’t believe them. Unnerved, Will sneaks out and calls 911, leaving Lester alone, or so he thinks. Apparently, Lester isn’t alone, as the murderous creature shows up and kills Lester, leaving him hanging in a closet, making it look like a suicide. Hmm, a clever boogeyman!
Anyway, soon after, the Boogeyman begins to haunt Will’s own children, and the rest of the movie tells the story of their efforts to defend themselves against the Boogeyman. Which unfortunately sounds better than it is. A lot of the screen time is spent on scenes of characters walking alone through empty hallways hearing strange noises, asking “Is anyone there?” These are the absolute worst kinds of scenes in horror movies. We’ve seen them so many times before. Or scenes where young Sawyer hears noises under her bed and in the dead silence of night looks underneath. Look, there’s nothing there! Wait for it! The big loud scare will happen momentarily. And it does. But it’s all so predictable.
And just how did the Boogeyman make the jump from one family to the other? No idea. The story doesn’t tell. We just can assume that this boogeyman can go wherever it pleases.
The characters also discover that this monster can bleed, so they assume they can kill it. Makes sense. But if it can bleed, does that make it a physical monster? If so, how is it going from one place to another without anyone seeing it? Does it know magic? Can it become invisible? Is it traveling through different realities? Again, no idea. Because on these topics the movie is silent.
While the characterizations may be weak, the acting at least is very good. Sophie Thatcher is convincing as teen daughter Sadie, who pretty much is the main character in the movie. She’s certainly the strongest character. As she finds answers, so does the audience, but sadly, most of the answers aren’t very satisfying. When she discovers that the thing bleeds, she says aloud that she’s guessing this means it can die. And that’s the best the movie has to offer in terms of answers. Guesses.
Chris Messina as daddy Will is sufficiently sad and gloomy, depressed over the loss of his wife while questioning his ability to care for his kids on his own. He’s kinda in a stupor throughout. He’s not a particularly effective dad. A far more effective story would have made the boogeyman in this one an entity threatening his role as dad, because his character is pretty vulnerable throughout.
Messina is a good actor who’s made bigger impressions in other movies, films like AIR (2023), where he had a field day playing Michael Jordan’s cutthroat agent David Falk. He’s been in a ton of movies, and going back a ways he was in ARGO (2012) and the weak horror movie DEVIL (2010).
Young Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer does “frightened” well, and a shout out should go to Maddie Nichols who in a very small role plays Natalie, one of Sadie’s school mates, who is as mean and as bitchy as they come. She makes Natalie the most frightening character in the movie, far scarier than the Boogeyman, mostly because she comes off as so real. Blair was equally as impressive in my favorite movie of the year in 2022, EMERGENCY (2022), an underappreciated gem from Prime Video.
And David Dastmalchian in what turns out to be just a cameo, makes for a very unsettled Lester Billings. Unfortunately, he’s only in one scene in this movie. Dastmalchian impressed as Polka-Dot Man in THE SUICIDE SQUAD (2021). He also plays Kurt in the ANT-MAN movies.
The best thing that THE BOOGEYMAN has going for it is that its monster, the Boogeyman, is rather cool looking, mostly because it’s always seen in the dark, since it hates the light. Why does it hate the light? No idea. Like everything else in this movie, you just have to guess. As I said, lazy storytelling. But it looks cool, and as a monster movie fan, I can’t take this away from the movie.
But other than creating a somewhat frightening looking monster, there’s not much else that director Rob Savage does here that works all that well. As I pointed out earlier, there are lots of dull scenes of characters walking through dark hallways. Boring.
The screenplay by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman is by far the weakest part of THE BOOGEYMAN. The characters are cliche, the monster isn’t clearly explained, and the situations are all from countless other horror movies we have seen before. The whole thing is exceedingly derivative. Beck and Woods also co-wrote 65 (2023), a dinosaur movie which also had an awful script which also contained very little details. Yet, these guys also worked on the screenplay for A QUIET PLACE (2018), which was an exceptional horror movie. Which just goes to show you how difficult writing is. Sometimes you nail it. Other times you don’t.
For the most part, THE BOOGEYMAN is watchable. The acting is decent, and the monster is cool looking, but if you’ve seen as many horror movies as I have, you reach the point where you are bored of seeing the same story elements and ways of telling them over and over again. And that’s the biggest knock against THE BOOGEYMAN. There’s nothing in it that I haven’t seen done better in countless other horror movies from years gone by.
It’s all pretty standard horror movie fare.
As a result, I give THE BOOGEYMAN two stars.
Four stars – Perfect, Top of the line
Three and a half stars- Excellent
Three stars – Very Good
Two and a half stars – Good
Two Stars – Fair
One and a half stars – Pretty Weak
One star- Poor
Zero stars – Awful