So you want to make an adaptation of a Stephen King story. How do you do it? There have been many people who have tried with some creating bold visions that went in their own direction while others tried to be as true to the original text as possible. Whatever the approach, surviving adaptations are few and far between. Think about Stanley Kubrick‘S classic Lightfilms that King himself denounced, or Mike Flanaganmore loyal Sleep Doctor, a moving sequel, as examples of works that each managed to stand out with a different approach. What makes each of the films successful is their shared commitment to the more subtle existential horrors that haunt the characters. We all fear what happens in the night, be it from a ghost that haunts a hotel or a group of travelers consuming the souls of others to survive, though the internal terror that cuts through them is just as deep. The outside is just a reflection of the pain we carry inside.


At the director Rob Savage‘S Boogeyman, King’s short story of the same name is just a starting point. Much of this came about out of necessity as the original horror story was limited to a single conversation which, while highly engaging, wasn’t enough to maintain a full feature set. Where is the director Jeff Schiro making low-budget short films in 1982 that mostly just adapted what was on the page to mixed results, this latest film goes way beyond that. As well as bringing the story into modern times, it’s built around the story’s only conversation to explore a larger canvas. As a result, the terrifying simplicity of King being brought back to life is traded for a more driving piece of horror that is less an adaptation than a reinterpretation that transports us from the past of its original setting to the present.

A central component of masculinity, with its posture around true strength betraying a weakness that can lead to breakdown, is toned down and molded into a more modern reflection on loss. Some of these work, mainly due to the always reliable work Chris Messina as a flawed patriarch who finds himself beyond his means, while other moments lack wisdom and end up explaining everything. Simultaneously, the creature that stalks the night becomes the embodiment of fear that threatens itself. While less so towards the conclusion, in that we see him more and more in a terror-defying way, the fear of the unknown throughout much of the film still sends chills down the spine.

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Sophie Thatcher Must Face ‘The Boogeyman’ Alone

boogeyman trailers
Image via 20th Century Studios

This all rests on the shoulders of young Sadie Harper. Played by Sofia Thatcher from the hit series Yellow jacket and great movies Prospects, he has to deal with monsters hiding in the dark as well as losing his mother recently. He is often assigned to look after his younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) as their father Will (Messina) has stepped back from his job as a therapist without speaking out about the pain they are all going through. In one session where a mysterious man, played to perfection by a spectacular character actor David Dastmalchian from the upcoming film Late Night with the Devil, shattering the false calm Will had been trying so desperately to build. Playing with key phrases lifted from the story, this man narrates how all of his children were killed by something no one would believe was real. We see part of this for ourselves in the patient’s opening scene which uses an unsettling sound design to set the tone for what’s to come. When the man finishes his story telling this, he soon meets his death in a grisly fashion at Harper’s house where most of the movie takes place. However, even though he had died, there was something he left behind. As Sawyer and later Sadie are tormented by this, the film effectively evokes the dread that comes from peering into the dark where you know something is peering behind yet it can still get out. Unfortunately, the more it goes on, the more this tension is diffused by conventional exposition and the shift to more about the spectacle than the actual fear is what it starts with. The emotion is there, but the execution is often lacking.

Some of it feels like a sacrifice made by the author Scott Beck, Bryan Woods (who recently wrote dino action movies 65) as well black swan writer Mark Heyman. Sacrifice for whom? Increasingly, it feels like it wants to appeal to mainstream horror audiences who want to jump into their seats rather than think something out. Where the opening scene stands out, showing that even children can be brutally murdered within the safety of their room, the rest of the film begins to feel like it’s pulling its punches. Some of it is explained as being about a creature playing with its food, but those explanations start to wear thin with each successive scene coming close to being repetitive.

The task of providing such explanations fell into extraordinary but underused hands Irish marine of the unsettling upcoming horror film Birth/Rebirth. While discussion of the exact characteristics of his role in this story is best kept to a minimum to avoid spoilers, he does steal the brief scene he gets. The unfortunate reality is that the role represents the film’s attempt to make something that is basically unknowable into something more knowable and, thus, safe. With each new detail shared in less deft fashion, more and more of the dread begins to subside. One interesting complication involving a missing tooth that hinted at grimmer revelations was also left out, capping a potentially ambitious conclusion and leaving a thread of what could have been. Where could it be this year Smileit appears only briefly.

‘The Boogeyman’ Gets Scary Before Playing It Safe

Chris Messina as Will in The Boogeyman
Image via 20th Century Studios

The film’s experience then becomes one of ups and downs where the more understated scenes are at their best. As it got bigger and more brash, the taste started to change to more like a lighter fear than something like Stranger Thingswith producer Shawn Levi also credited here for only being the tip of the iceberg in terms of what feels familiar, rather than anything like it Kyle Edward Ball’Incredible recent horror Skinamarink. Obviously, this film will never be as patient and petrified as the last one which was more experimental in form. Still, there are moments where he plays with the same dread as familiar voices that still sound inaccurate echo through the darkness. Just like Savage’s breakthrough punch Hostwhich thankfully the film is briefly referenced here instead Dash camhe’s capable of something truly terrifying if he’s not burdened with laying it all out.

While it feels like a lot is being held back, as it chooses to be more bonkers than unsettling in its closing act, the craft that goes into the key sequences is where it manages to overcome most of these pitfalls. Whether it’s in a scene involving a flash of light that only captures a fleeting frame of impending danger or a scene where the tiny dot of a shining eye foreshadows danger, Boogeyman is at its best when it removes all excess to pull us deeper into darkness.

Rating: B-

Boogeyman in theaters June 2.

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