Director – Rob Savage – 2023 – US – Cert. 15 – 98m
Two sisters recently bereaved of their mother start to imagine something nasty waiting for them in the darkness of night – Stephen King adaptation is out in UK cinemas on Friday, June 2nd
An uninvited man Lester Billings (David Dalmachian) turns up at the home-based office of therapist Will Harper (Chris Messina) wanting to talk. His family died, and he is suspected of murdering them… but, he claims, it wasn’t him who did it. Harper has recently lost his wife, so it’s inevitable that Billings’ story will resonate with him. While Harper excuses himself to covertly call the police, Billings starts wandering round the home in which Harper lives with his two daughters – the teenage Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and the much younger Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair).
The scene in the office is the Stephen King short story (published in his Night Shift collection) and only a small part of the movie. It is, however, a highly significant part – the incident that sparks everything else off. Billings claims his family was slain by a hideous monster, and the impressionable Sawyer is at the age of childhood where she imagines monsters lurking in the closet or hiding beneath the bed. The short story has three characters – the therapist, the stranger and the murderer, a hideous monster called the Boogeyman who lurks in the dark and preys on fear.
This is both a highly effective horror movie about a monster hiding in the shadows who you hardly ever see, and a study in dealing with bereavement. On one level, the monster functions as a metaphor for the way unresolved grief can eat away at people until it finally consumes them. And on another, more immediate level, it’s simply a vicious monster that eats its victims following the terrorising of them in a slow game of cat and mouse.
With Billings gone from the film after the office scene, what follows is basically a three-hander between father, teenage daughter and younger daughter. And, to be honest, although it’s the father’s encounter with the stranger that kickstarts the plot, after that he recedes into the background somewhat as the focus shifts to his two kids and how they deal with the monster.
We don’t really see the latter leave the house much – Sawyer spends an awful lot of time at home playing video games, She also doesn’t deal with darkness well at night, rolling a glowing globe around to dispel the dark and see what’s really there. It’s while using this to look under her bed that she first sees the Boogeyman. On another occasion, she rolls the globe along a corridor until it rolls around a corner into an area out of her sight. As well as eliciting a convincing performance from Blair, director Savage and his team orchestrate all this both beautifully and highly effectively for maximum scare value.
The older Sadie is shown at high school, where her best friend now hangs out with a wider clique who don’t like Sadie very much. And as she impetuously takes matters into her own hands, she’s also shown visiting the Billings residence, where she finds Lester’s survivalist wife Rita (Marin Ireland) brandishing a firearm and determined to destroy the monster. Much of the time, though, sees her interacting with her younger sister, initially rehashing that old horror movie trope of, the monster isn’t real – you’re just imagining it, until she comes to believe that what her sister is reporting is in fact very real indeed.
In the end, this is a lean and efficient adaptation of one of King’s most resonant short stories. It’s beautifully shot and production designed with a solid knowledge of how to use light and darkness in a horror movie, both of which are assets in a movie of this sort. With the male characters gone or receding after the inciting office scene, it relies heavily on its two female child stars to make it work, and both do a good job. In short, an effective, crowd-pleasing shocker about coming to terms with the trauma of bereavement.
The Boogeyman is out in cinemas in the UK on Friday, June 2nd.