Review: Based on Stephen King’s Classic Story, The Boogeyman is Equal Parts Horror Film, Family Drama

Part adaptation of and sequel to the Stephen King-penned short story of the same name, The Boogeyman takes the confessional approach of the written plot (a distraught patient talking to his therapist) and makes that the first act of a longer story about said therapist, Will Harper (Chris Messina), and his two daughters, teen Sadie (Sadie Harper of Yellowjackets and The Book of Boba Fett) and younger Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, who recently played the 10-year-old Princess Leia in the Obi Wan Kenobi series), all coping with the death of the family matriarch. 

Directed by Rob Savage (Host, Dashcam) and adapted by A Quiet Place writers Scott Beck & Bryan Woods, as well as Mark Heyman, the film concerns dealing with (and not dealing with) grief to such a degree that it might eat you alive; or in the case of The Boogeyman, a terrifying creature that lives in your closet might sense your grief and do the eating for you. However you look at this unnerving tale, it mostly works and manages to get under your skin as much as any PG-13 horror film can. The movie opens with Will trying to see patients in the immediate aftermath of his wife’s death and refusing to discuss what happened to her with another therapist or his own kids, both of whom are going through their own intense pain, which dad refuses to acknowledge. 

After Will’s last appointment on one particular day, the mysterious Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) enters his home office and proceeds to tell him the story of how his two children died—a crime for which Billings himself was accused, even though he’s convinced he saw a monster hiding in the shadows of his home, ready to take his kids. Billings ends up going into Will’s home and killing himself, but it doesn’t take long for the Harpers to figure out that he brought something into their home that feeds on grief. Considering young Sawyer was already terrified of the dark (she sleeps with her arms wrapped around a glowing ball), having this creature torment her from her closest doesn’t sit well. Sadie is a bit more fearless, and sets out to figure out what is lurking in their home and how to get rid of it. It doesn’t seem to like any type of light, and it can only exist where there are unmentionable levels of despair.

Will still thinks Sawyer is imagining things and sends her to a child psychologist (LisaGay Hamilton), who runs a few light-related experiments with the girl that fail wildly. Meanwhile, Sadie pays a visit to Billings now-widow (the great Marin Ireland), who has set up countless traps in her home to protect herself from the Boogeyman, confirming that the creature is a physical being that can be hurt and possibly killed. 

From the oppressively sad tone of the film to the creature design, not to mention the across-the-board solid acting from every member of the cast, The Boogeyman is almost more of a family drama than a straight-forward horror film, and it’s all the better for it. But as a scary film, it’s not too shabby either. The monster is somewhat original in nature, and while the idea of a creature that feeds on sorrow isn’t new, the two young actresses in particular sell the concept with their raw and fearless performances. Like many a King story, the ending doesn’t completely land cleanly, but that shortcoming hardly destroys this surprisingly effective work.

The film is now playing in theaters.

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Steve Prokopy

Steve Prokopy is chief film critic for the Chicago-based arts outlet Third Coast Review. For nearly 20 years, he was the Chicago editor for Ain’t It Cool News, where he contributed film reviews and filmmaker/actor interviews under the name “Capone.” Currently, he’s a frequent contributor at /Film (SlashFilm.com) and Backstory Magazine. He is also the public relations director for Chicago's independently owned Music Box Theatre, and holds the position of Vice President for the Chicago Film Critics Association. In addition, he is a programmer for the Chicago Critics Film Festival, which has been one of the city's most anticipated festivals since 2013.