A monster that lurks in closets and underneath beds terrorizes children in The Boogeyman, a new adaptation of an early Stephen King short story now playing in Prague cinemas. This slick horror film is well-crafted and packs a few good scares, but what may have been terrifying in 1973 is almost laughably conventional fifty years later.
In King’s original story, first published in Cavalier magazine and later included in the 1978 collection Night Shift. a man named Lester Billings recounts the murder of his three children by a supernatural creature to a psychiatrist. While he managed to convince police that his kids died of natural causes, the boogeyman that killed them continues top haunt him.
Billings is played by David Dastmalchian in The Boogeyman, and he recounts his story to psychiatrist Will Harper (Chris Messina) in an early scene that no longer works in 2023. How is this man, clearly out of his mind and responsible for the one-by-one deaths of his children, still walking around freely?
But The Boogeyman only uses Billings’ story as a springboard for its actual narrative. After bringing his story to Harper’s home, he has also transferred the curse of the boogeyman… somehow. And so the titular creature quickly begins to haunt Will’s two children, teenage Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair).
In the 50 years since King’s story was written, we’ve seen the events of this film play out countless times, and not only in supernatural franchises like The Amityville Horror or Poltergeist. Movies like Darkness Falls, They (2002), The Boogeyman (2005), The Hallow, The Babadook, Lights Out, Before I Wake, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and so on all feature shockingly similar narratives surrounding supernatural monsters that haunt the shadows of our minds… and bedrooms.
At some point, the characters in all of these movies realize the monster only lurks in the dark… so they, you know, turn the lights on, right? Of course not. And so The Boogeyman ends with its characters entering a pitch-black basement armed only with a Zippo lighter.
We can forgive these movies if they deliver the scares. Early scenes in The Boogeyman feature young Sawyer taking her only light source – one of those round moon lamps – and rolling it into her closet, and under her bed, and down the hallway, in an attempt to reveal the monster that she can hear. These scenes are wonderfully effective, and the filmmakers know it, and repeat it three or four times. They should have done it three or four more times.
By the end of the movie, Sadie turns to Billings’ wife (Marin Ireland) for some laughable boogeyman backstory (“It must be getting hungry. You don’t have much time.”) And what was initially a modest and atmospheric horror film becomes an overblown action movie as the creature transitions from supernatural to super-ordinary, and easily disposed of.
The Boogeyman is also a metaphor for grief and loss – the girls have recently lost their mother – but the conventional resolution results in a film that isn’t nearly as effective as last year’s Smile, or this year’s Talk to Me. Ultimately, the unsettling horrors of King’s original story get lost in a sea of modern horror movie tropes.
This one is especially disappointing coming from director Rob Savage, who previously integrated modern technology into effective horror films in Dashcam and the Zoom-based pandemic film Host. Working with a much bigger budget here, he’s taken a step forward visually but two back in terms of story.