The Boogeyman (2023)
Director: Rob Savage
Screenwriters: Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Mark Heyman
Starring: Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, David Dastmalchian
Well, it’s about time. It has been at least several months since the last Stephen King adaptation, so obviously the horror maestro had to find a way to make another appearance.
The Boogeyman, based on King’s short story of the same name, originally published in Cavalier in 1973 (for reference, he’d had no novels published at this point; “Carrie” came out the following year), and collected in his first collection “Night Shift” (that’s where you’ll also find “Children of the Corn”, “The Mangler”, “Jerusalem’s Lot”, and others), is a bizarre story to adapt in that there’s barely anything to it. It’s a fairly standard short in the vein of the pulp stories from Weird Tales and the ilk, with a twist kicker ending because that’s how those stories work. When bringing it to the big screen, the studio and filmmakers have to navigate two major issues. Firstly, it’s definitely nowhere near King’s best story, even from his very early years, and is one that many will likely forget the instant they finish. Secondly, there’s hardly anything there to adapt to begin with.
Indeed, the original story about a man (David Dastmalchian) going to a psychiatrist (Chris Messina) to explain the real reason behind the deaths of his three children over the past few years, trying to convince them that it was a monstrous Boogeyman killing them, finds itself slotted into this film perhaps ten minutes in, taking up maybe five minutes of runtime maximum. The rest of the film is brand new, following the family of that psychiatrist after the death of his wife, and the horror that is brought onto his children, Sadie and Sawyer, after the monster attaches itself to them.
That is the story in principle. For viewers that have been keeping up with big-screen horror for the past year, however, it’s much easier to explain. If you’ve seen 2022’s Smile, take that, make it a monster haunting kids in the dark instead of a smiling curse demon, and you’re pretty much all set. Sure, there are some slight pacing changes, fewer jump scares (only slightly fewer), and a stronger focus on grief and moving on, but those are differences in the same way that someone changes a few answers on their homework they’re copying from their friend five minutes before class.
The Boogeyman is inoffensive in every way. Because of this, it becomes much like the original short story: not bad, but incredibly forgettable. Host director Rob Savage offers fine direction but nothing astonishing. The script meanders for a long time trying to figure out what to do – when one of the characters says “It likes to play with its food,” you know that’s because they needed to pad out the runtime and find an excuse for it. There is a storyline of grief that feels honest at least, but it isn’t nuanced, and the acting from the principal trio is fairly strong – their choices of Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair for Sadie and Sawyer respectively make these two performances the relative highlight, a lone island emerging from a quagmire of mulchy mediocrity.
The film follows every possible by-the-numbers beat, the formula so obvious that it’s almost scrawled on its celluloid arm ready to cheat at the exam. These films usually come in five sections. 1. The haunting begins. 2. Jump scares divide the cast between believers and non-believers. 3. Investigations begin but lead nowhere. 4. More scares and perilous turning points. 5. Final showdown, non-believers converted. Almost all haunted-house/demonic possession stories roughly follow this format, and The Boogeyman makes no attempts to shake up this well-worn path. Why would it need to? It just slaps ‘Stephen King’ on the front and rakes in the box office revenue.
In a world where Insidious and The Conjuring have swept the public’s hearts and imaginations, this film slots right into the established zeitgeist. And when Stephen King reportedly sends the director an email after seeing it screened for him, and says, essentially, Fox would be idiots to not put it in the cinema and stream it instead, you listen. That is perhaps the only reason this film will get any recognition; the power of the word of Stephen King. In the end, however, it will go the way of the original short story: forgotten until someone makes another adaptation in 30 years time.