Craftsmanship counts for a lot in the pristine, PG-13 frights of “The Boogeyman,” a polished and well-cast Stephen King adaptation.
As spine-tingling suspense is a reflexive human response that can generated by shot-selection, lighting, music that sets a tone and jolting sound effects and editing, almost irrespective of the performances, calling “Boogeyman” well-crafted isn’t a grand compliment, on its own.
But throw in sympathetic performances, actors framed in tight closeups and a child actress who knows how to play “The Boogeyman is REAL” and convince us and everybody else she believes it and you’ve got another example of Stephen King delivering the goods.
Granted, the title of the short story sold it. And it took three screenwriters and the efforts of the cast and director Rob Savage (“Host,” the Zoom meeting seance movie, and “Dashcam” were his) to flesh this out to feature film length. Because that story was thin, and truthfully, the plot to this thriller and the “rules” of this “monster” are vague, under-developed and not on a par with the master’s finest work.
But Savage keeps his camera tight on the members of this family that finds itself under assault when a walk-in client brings his “problem” to Dr. Will Harper, who runs his psychiatric practice from his big and baroque wood frame home.
Sophie Thatcher of “Prospect” and TV’s “Yellowjackets” is Sadie, our protagonist, a teen who was having enough trouble fitting in at school before her mother died. She’s just now going back, still grieving, her concern for her not-yet-adjusted little sister (Vivien Lyra Blair) her best distraction. Little Sawyer is having nightmares.
Their psychotherapist dad (Chris Messina) is back at work, solving Sawyer’s problem with strings of holiday lights hanging in her room and a glowing Moon ball for her to sleep with. No, you can’t tell where they put the batteries in that thing.
Sawyer and Sadie are in therapy (LisaGay Hamilton plays Dr. Weller), because Dad isn’t. He’s in denial. What’s he going to do when Sawyer asks him to look under the bed, or demands that he check out her closet, whose door keeps opening on its own, one more time?
“I TOLD you. It’s REAL.”
When that haunted stranger (David Dastmalchian of “Suicide Squad” and “Dune”) comes in, the good doctor can’t call the police fast enough to keep the guy from killing himself and bringing the film’s title character home to roost.
The stranger tries to warn them. This monster? It’s “the thing that comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention.”
And there’s your metaphor, an inattentive, perhaps guilt-ridden father doesn’t take the “real” monster going bump in the night seriously.
“Boogeyman” patiently dilineates characters, gives us a Sadie who “doesn’t WANT to move on” and hates dealing with classmate sympathy and mean girl “get over it” cruelty. It’s only been a month, we’re told.
Savage lets us take this journey from disbelief to shock via Thatcher’s face, captured in dimly-lit close-ups as she tries to rationalize what she’s heard, what she’s seeing, how that ties into the dead guy’s life and how her baby sister was right all along.
Blair is very good at getting across the horror of what she’s experiencing, even if the viewer is wondering how in the hell this kid isn’t leaving the lights on all the time and getting involve-the-older-sister-and-Dad LOUD about the thing skittering up her walls and charging the sofa where she’s playing video games.
I really like the one “rule” the movie seems to establish and the filmmakers find creative ways to illustrate. The Boogey, everybody knows, is afraid of the light. Sawyer fires a bright flashing weapon in her video game to light up the room and expose the beast.
The beast itself is a shrug, standard issue anteater-headed crab-beast with glowing eyes. The more we see of the monster, the less scary he is.
That almost goes for the more we learn of this mystery, too. Marin Ireland shows up as a properly-cracked “explainer” and battler with the boogeyman who is pretty sure a shotgun is all it’ll take to end this.
As I say, the story here didn’t do much for me and seems like a rickety, illogically-pieced-together structure to hang this narrative on.
But the players and the craftsmanship — the lighting, editing, silences and loud noise — make up for that and deliver those frights we ordered the moment we bought a ticket.
Rating: PG-13 for terror, violent content, teen drug use and some strong language
Cast: Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, David Dastmalchian, Vivien Lyra Blair,
LisaGay Hamilton and Marin Ireland
Credits: Directed by Rob Savage, scripted by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman, based on a short story by Stephen King. A 20th Century release.
Running time: 1:38