‘The Boogeyman’ opens with an overhead shot of a child’s crib, before transitioning over to a closet door slowly opening. Something emerges from the dark space, and the camera only catches its shadow as the creature looms over the sobbing baby. The final result (and shot) of the scene is terrifying, and sets the tone for a horror movie that pushes its PG-13 rating to the limit and delivers both scares and emotional drama.
“What are you really afraid of?” In an early scene in ‘The Boogeyman’, Will Harper asks this question to one of his patients. Harper (played by Chris Messina) is a therapist and a father, a father still reeling over the recent loss of his wife in an accident. His children, Sadie and Sawyer (Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair respectively), are handling their mother’s death in different ways: Sadie is still holding on to the past, wearing her mother’s dress and refusing to let go of her possessions, while Sawyer has trouble sleeping without a light on. Despite their different reactions, it’s Will’s severed emotional connection to his children that truly amplifies their pain. It is only when a man (David Dastmalchian, severely underused) named Lester shows up unannounced in Harper’s home office does the pain manifest into a monster, the Boogeyman itself.
Director Rob Savage is unafraid to show the creature throughout the film, and it is understandable; the design of the Boogeyman is horrifyingly creative. However, it’s not the Boogeyman’s physical appearance that invokes fear but its voice. Its cooing, gurgling grumbles are subtle and soft, and the Boogeyman also yields a vocal ability that won’t be spoiled here but ratchets up the tension in quite a few scenes. The sound design is impeccable beyond just the titular creature, with the flashes of cameras and the bursting of lightbulbs creating palpable tension throughout the film. Sadie’s comforting singing to her sister is cruelly transformed into a spine-tingling melody that terrifies both the audience and Sawyer. Patrick Jonsson’s score, relying heavily on deeper string instruments, works alongside the sound effects to create tense scene after tense scene, never letting the audience breathe. The lighting is also crucial to ratchet up the anxiety (the creature only lurks in the dark), and it succeeds with flying colors. A scene where Sawyer is playing a video game on the TV reveals the creature in an incredibly creative way, and the result of the scene is a lingering, slowly-moving shot that ends shockingly.
The emotional stakes don’t work without the performances, and most are pitch-perfect. Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair (both Star Wars alums) are believable as siblings, with Thatcher’s constant anguish at the loss of her mother always lurking on her face. She doesn’t rely on loud emotional outbursts to convey her suffering often, but when she does, they’re sure to grab your attention. One outburst results in one of the most effective jumpscares I’ve ever experienced, and I wasn’t alone; half of my screening yelled loud enough to be heard over the musical sting. Vivien Lyra Blair is also wonderful here, and peppers the film with a surprising amount of levity and chuckles throughout. I would’ve liked to see more of Chris Messina, although the focus on the children means that he often fades into the background.
There are some criticisms to be had with ‘The Boogeyman’. Savage resorts to slow-motion shots a few times throughout the film, which often feel hokey and old-fashioned; they don’t add anything to the emotional weight or tension of the scenes they’re featured in. Marin Ireland is cast in a thankless role as Lester’s wife, who’s only purpose seems to be to spout exposition and one-liners while appearing grizzled and crazy. Her scenes in the film culminate into an unneeded action scene that lasts less than a minute. The focus is on the Harper children, which leaves supporting characters somewhat underdeveloped, including Sadie’s classmates that feel straight out of a network soap opera.
The underlying theme of ‘The Boogeyman’ is centered around grief. How do we overcome grief? How can we communicate our grief? Do we live with it or snuff it out? The Boogeyman is clearly the personification of the Harper family’s misery, a misery that Will keeps hidden from his children to protect them. Instead, the concealed truth only harms them. The final shot of the film seems to tell us that it’s okay to be afraid, as long as that fear and sadness doesn’t consume us (literally).
The Boogeyman releases in theaters on June 2.