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‘The Boogeyman’

by KEITH GARLINGTON Special to the Democrat-Gazette | June 9, 2023 at 1:57 a.m.

First things first, the new supernatural chiller "The Boogeyman" is no relation to "Boogeyman," the woefully bland 2005 horror film that spawned two direct-to-video sequels. Instead this one is based on the 1973 short story of the same name by Stephen King. It was originally planned as a straight-to-streaming release. But after some strong screen tests and a stamp of approval from King himself, Disney opted for the full theatrical treatment.

"The Boogeyman" is directed by Rob Savage and written by the team of Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (the duo who penned "The Quiet Place") and Mark Heyman. While they're definitely not reinventing the wheel with their latest, there's a certain well-made old-school chiller quality to it. And it offers up some good counter programming for those not interested in the latest superhero Spider-Man multiverse extravaganza that grabbed most of the attention last weekend.

Grief and loss continue to be among the most prominent themes in movies today. They certainly play a big part in "The Boogeyman." High schooler Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and her kid sister, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), are struggling to adjust following the recent death of their mother. Suffocating under his own sorrow, their grieving father, Will (Chris Messina), has locked up his feelings and refused to talk about the accident that took his wife's life. Understandably it has put a strain on his relationship with his daughters.

As the girls prepare for their first day back at school in a month, Sadie has an especially tough time (it's all the more understandable once we meet her pathetic excuses for "friends"). Meanwhile Will, a therapist working from home, has continued to see patients. After getting the girls to school he returns to his office and is surprised by a troubled man named Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) who is desperate to speak to him.

Will sits Lester down and puts on his therapist cap. The conversation that follows is arguably the film's creepiest sequence. Lester explains he's suspected of murdering his three young children but denies it. Instead he hands Will a crude drawing of a sinister looking monster he clams is responsible. "It's the thing that comes for your kids when you're not paying attention," he says in a strangely pointed manner.

I won't spoil where things go from there, but Will and Lester's meeting doesn't end on a good note. Even worse, soon the monster pays their home a visit. Of course it only comes out at night and it begins by terrorizing young Sawyer (don't ask me why). Blair was a hit playing young Princess Leia in Disney's "Obi-Wan Kenobi" series and she's really good here.

The same can be said for Thatcher playing the older sister forced to take on an almost parental role. Sadie doesn't buy Sawyer's claims at first. But soon she too comes face-to-face with the malevolent creature. And with her father in such a disconnected state, she takes it upon herself to protect her kid sister and find out why the monster has chosen their family to terrorize.

There are a lot of heavy themes being explored and the numerous metaphors are impossible to miss. That's especially true during the big ending where it's hard to tell if the filmmakers are even trying to hide their overarching message. Still the metaphors and message are effective. Unfortunately they also make things predictable. Perhaps it's the inescapable result of seeing so many horror movies plow similar ground, but once you get a grip on what the filmmakers are after it's pretty easy to tell where they are heading.

As for the horror stuff, we get some good atmosphere, a few well-executed scares, and a cool creature design. At the same time Savage leans a little too much on the genre's more well-worn tropes. Loud bangs, creepy voices, creaking doors, noises in the walls -- it's all there. He does some interesting things with light and shadows, but even that starts to feel too familiar.

When considered together it's these nagging issues that eventually cause the movie to sputter despite the best efforts of those in front of and behind the camera. For the most part it still accomplishes what it sets out to do. But the overall impression that "we've seen all this before" stymies much of the suspense and leaves the film feeling like pretty standard horror movie fare. Well-intended and mildly successful, but standard nonetheless.

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