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The Boogeyman review: simple horror done right

Sophie Thatcher holds a lighter in The Boogeyman.
The Boogeyman
“Thanks to Rob Savage's assured direction, The Boogeyman succeeds as a simple but entertaining twist on a typical monster-under-the-bed horror story.”
  • Several memorable jump scares and horror sequences
  • Rob Savage's controlled, minimalist direction
  • Sophie Thatcher's capable lead performance
  • An all-too-familiar grief subplot
  • A final act that relies too much on action rather than suspense

Things don’t just go bump in the night in The Boogeyman. Doors open and slam shut, lights flicker on and off, teeth get pulled, and unimaginable horrors scurry beneath the bed. The film doesn’t just derive its title from the most well-known of childhood monsters, it also gorges itself on familiar horrors — the kind that have haunted children (and adults) since the dawn of time. In that sense, The Boogeyman is a fairly simple haunted house film, one that isn’t as interested in inventing new things for us to be afraid of as it is in revisiting some old favorites.

Fortunately, what both it and the Stephen King short story it’s based on lack in originality, The Boogeyman makes up for in its execution. Directed by Rob Savage, the film is a well-constructed piece of horror that doesn’t so much reinvent the wheel as much as it reminds us why the creaky floorboards and dark corners of our house always seem so terrifying after everyone’s gone to bed. It’s a lean thrill ride that cleanly accomplishes everything it sets out to do, though some people may be let down by the fact that it doesn’t set out to do anything more than entertain and scare you for approximately 91 minutes.

Chris Messina looks at a piece of paper in The Boogeyman.
20th Century Studios

The Boogeyman’s story is one that audiences have seen before. The film picks up with Sadie Harper (Yellowjackets‘ Sophie Thatcher) just a few weeks after the tragic death of her mom, an event that has sent her, her little sister Sawyer (Obi-Wan Kenobi‘s Vivien Lyra Blair), and her psychiatrist father, Will (Air‘s Chris Messina), into a quiet, collective emotional spiral. Unfortunately for them, their lives take another tragic turn when Lester Billings (The Suicide Squad‘s David Dastmalchian), the grieving father of three recently deceased children, shows up in Will’s office looking for advice about how to deal with the malevolent entity he claims killed his kids.

When Sadie discovers Lester hanging from her mother’s closet door just minutes later, it’s clear that something followed him to the Harpers’ home. The film’s eponymous monster doesn’t wait long to start setting its sights on the still-in-mourning family, either. Before long, not only is Sawyer being terrorized in the middle of the night, but Sadie also begins experiencing a series of horrifying visions and late-night encounters that she can’t logically explain. By the time The Boogeyman has reached its final act, even Will has ended up in the titular being’s crosshairs.

Over the course of its runtime, The Boogeyman oscillates between two different kinds of scenes: moments of introspective grieving and tightly constructed jump scares. Near the back half of its second act, this pattern results in The Boogeyman dipping into slightly unsatisfying, repetitive territory. Savage’s strong craftsmanship prevents The Boogeyman from ever becoming unengaging, though, and the speed at which the film’s final third ramps up helps make up for the unfortunate shagginess of its second act.

Vivien Lyra Blair holds a moon light in The Boogeyman.
20th Century Studios

In its chilling opening scene, The Boogeyman establishes a style that Savage more or less maintains for the rest of the film. As his camera slowly drifts around in a 360-degree turn, the director shows us only glimpses of what’s happening. We see, for instance, a closet door open, a gnarled hand reaching toward a crib, and a spray of blood. Later, during one of the film’s standout sequences, Savage uses the pale light of a flat-screen TV to illuminate a nerve-wracking attack on Blair’s Sawyer. After the assault takes an aggressive turn, Savage turns his attention solely to the TV — a choice that not only allows most of the action to go unseen, but which pays off when the scene reaches its brutal conclusion.

The director fills The Boogeyman with similarly ingenious touches. In one memorable moment, Savage frames an actor’s face in a tight close-up and then uses a quick flick of their eyes to establish the approach of a new threat. In another sequence, Savage not only times the growing tension of a scene to a specific needle drop, but also frames one character’s ominous reappearance through the curved glass of an open washing machine door. In case his 2020 feature, Host, hadn’t already done so, The Boogeyman proves that Savage knows how to create tension and terror out of the simplest of choices.

Unfortunately, The Boogeyman’s script, which was penned by Mark Heyman and A Quiet Place writers Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, eventually demands that Savage abandon the minimalistic approach of the film’s first half. Its final act sees The Boogeyman bring its eponymous monster into full view, and the film’s effectiveness dips when it does so. As is usually the case when it comes to horror, The Boogeyman is at its best whenever it’s showing as little as possible. Savage’s direction, however, softens the damage done by The Boogeyman’s late-game missteps and its now all-too-familiar, grief-driven story.

Sadie hugs Sawyer in a red-lit room in The Boogeyman.
20th Century Studios

Despite being forced to both propel the film’s plot forward and convey most of its emotional weight, Thatcher turns in a quietly commanding performance as The Boogeyman’s central heroine. While Messina and Blair are given considerably less to do as the father and younger sister to Thatcher’s Sadie, both manage to hold your attention whenever they’re on-screen as well.

The familiar nature of the Harpers’ story prevents The Boogeyman from becoming a new horror classic, but the committed performances given by its cast and the artful direction on Savage’s part are enough to stop it from falling into full-on mediocrity. The film is ultimately an entertaining and mostly impactful collection of clever visual gags and jump scares, one that can and should be experienced while eating a bucket of popcorn and screaming along with a packed crowd. As far as contemporary horror entries go, it’s also a welcome reminder that sometimes there really is nothing scarier than the feeling you get in the middle of the night that there’s something hiding under your bed.

The Boogeyman is now in theaters nationwide. For related content, please read The Boogeyman’s ending, explained.

Alex Welch
Alex is a TV and movies writer based out of Los Angeles. In addition to Digital Trends, his work has been published by…
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