THE BOOGEYMAN is a film that was originally slated to be released as a straight-to-streaming movie on Hulu. But, due to strong audience reactions during test screenings, 20th Century Studios decided to give it a more prestigious theatrical run. That being said, after watching the film, I found myself asking, “Did the screenings present the same movie as the one I was shown?” To be fair, I didn’t dislike the film, but it’s more of an “average level, we’ve seen it all before, but it’s still a fun ride” experience than an “It’s so good that we need to change our distribution plan” kind of movie. With some interesting cinematography, acting and editing, the film runs about 45 minutes too long, and although it shares some truly effective scare scenes making it still worth watching, its slower thematic moments quickly begin to wear out their welcome, at times dragging the film down.

The poster states that the film is “from the mind of Stephen King” and, in my opinion, this is a little misleading. Yes, the film was adapted from King’s 1973 short story of the same name as the film’s writers Scott Beck, Bryan Woods (A QUITE PLACE) and Mark Heyman (BLACK SWAN) utilize elements of it to set up the plot. Then all of a sudden, the story becomes so completely different that readers familiar with the short might think the five minutes of screen time relating to King’s original work were only there to cash in on the author’s name and it could have been much more effective if the filmmakers had done something original instead.

The film itself is a movie about grief, as the boogeyman monster is a creature that feeds on this emotion by going after those who are actively dealing with it. The story centers itself around a psychiatrist Will Harper (Chris Messina) and his two daughters, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair). They are all learning to deal with the recent loss of their deceased mother/wife when a disturbed man, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), enters Will’s home office. He tells the story of the monster that killed his children before then hanging himself in the upstairs closet, releasing the boogeyman onto the unsuspected family.

Sophie Thatcher as Sadie in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOOGEYMAN. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Director Rob Savage (DASHCAM) deserves credit for trying to make a film that is about more than just monsters, jump scares, and violence. As hard as he tries though, he is not completely successful in elevating the movie past traditional horror movie standards. Part of the problem comes from the length of the script. There may be enough story here for a half-hour segment of a television anthology series, but that’s all. As the script stretches the story out to allow the movie to reach its 98-minute runtime, things get a little too slow. The exploration of the loss of a family member is interesting but eventually begins to become too repetitive and the introduction of some side characters, more specifically Sadie’s bullying friends, are not well developed and only seem to exist in order to pad the film’s running time.

Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer in 20th Century Studios’ THE BOOGEYMAN. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2023 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

The real nail in the coffin is the boogeyman itself. The creature looks great and Savage expertly uses a combination of perfectly lit cinematography and editing to give viewers some genuinely creepy moments. Fearing the light, the monster lurks in the dark shadows, revealed at first in quick flashes of light, giving a relatively scary effect. The film opens strong as the boogeyman claims its first victim, a toddler who is all alone in his crib. This sets up a creature who has no boundaries on whose life it will take. Ultimately though, it isn’t an effective creature because the movie never meets the terror set up in the opening moments. From there, the boogeyman character becomes a monster who continually fails to catch and kill any of its victims and will eventually have viewers questioning what it is that supposedly makes it a deadly presence.

THE BOOGEYMAN isn’t a bad film. It’s just not a good one either. It sits somewhere in the middle as a mediocre experience. Savage shows some potential as a director but unfortunately decides to avoid breaking any new ground and so much feels very familiar. Still, it’s definitely worth checking out. However, I would recommend waiting for this one to hit streaming services, which is ironic considering that this is where it was initially supposed to premiere. Unfortunately, for THE BOOGEYMAN, there is a much more effective horror film, EVIL DEAD RISE, still in theaters, giving viewers a superior option for a scarier time at the movies.

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