The Boogeyman (2023) Review

Having seen the screenlife supernatural horror Host in 2020, I was impressed by Rob Savage’s ingenuity in crafting a scary horror movie filmed entirely using Zoom that only runs a lean 57 minutes. But then, he gave us the visceral but annoyingly repugnant Dashcam a year after, thanks to Annie Hardy’s unlikable protagonist that made me wonder what Savage was thinking at the time.

Well, thankfully he bounces back with The Boogeyman, marking his first major studio picture that was originally slated for a Hulu exclusive before a better-than-expected test screening prompted the studio to release it in cinemas instead. Before I get to the review, here’s what you need to know about The Boogeyman: Based on Stephen King’s 1973 short story of the same name, the movie revolved around Sadie Harper (Sophie Thatcher) and her little sister, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) who recently lost their mother in a car accident while their therapist-father Will (Chris Messina) seemingly choose to move on as usual. Sawyer is particularly afraid of the dark and even sleeps with the lights on while Sadie is having a tough time getting over her mum’s death.

When a mysterious patient named Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) shows up without an appointment at Will’s house-cum-office one day, he begins to share his problem about what he did to his children. Lester’s presence subsequently triggers an unexplained event that involves an entity stalking Will’s children in the dark.

Chris Messina in "The Boogeyman" (2023)

Adapted by Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, the same screenwriting duo who wrote A Quiet Place and this year’s 65 alongside Mark Heyman of Black Swan (2010) fame, the story pretty much treads on familiar ground. This includes everything from supernatural occurrences where things go bump in the night to a grieving family trying to cope with the loss of their loved one. They are among the common tropes typically seen in the supernatural horror genre but the good news is, Savage manages to turn this otherwise all-too-familiar story into a reasonably lean chiller.

The Boogeyman benefits from a 98-minute runtime that doesn’t overstay its welcome and it was efficiently paced with plenty of well-timed jump scares. The latter is especially true in some scenes, namely the bedroom scene revolving around Sawyer and her light ball. There’s another scene worth mentioning here and again, it involves Sawyer using a video game controller to identify the presence of the entity in a darkened living room. Savage also made good use of darkness to evoke a foreboding sense of dread and it helps that the combination of meticulous sound design and camerawork along with Eli Born’s atmospheric cinematography helps to give the movie sufficient creepiness.

As for the cast, Sophie Thatcher delivers an engaging performance as a spunky but sympathetic teenager trying to come to her grips following her mother’s death while making sure she’ll do whatever she can to protect her little sister against the relentless evil lurking in their home. Vivien Lyra Blair is equally praiseworthy as the poor younger sister forced to endure the tormented ordeal while Chris Messina, who was recently seen in Air, gives a solid supporting turn as the caring but emotionally detached father.

But as much as I appreciate their above-average performances, it was David Dastmalchian who steals the show in The Boogeyman. His role may have been brief but his entire scene with Messina’s Will during his visit resulted in the movie’s spookiest moment. Finally, the titular entity itself is largely portrayed in an effective form through the power of suggestion with only a few glimpses, making it all the more fearsome whenever it appears somewhere in the dark. But once the entity is finally revealed itself in plain sight towards the climactic third-act finale, the uneven CGI effect of the creature design begins to rear its ugly head, proving that sometimes it’s best to stick to a less-is-more approach.

The Boogeyman may have been far from Savage’s best work (his 2020’s Host remains his benchmark for now) and despite all the familiarity, this movie contains enough suspense and thrills to keep one’s occupied.