The Harper family have just suffered a terrible loss.
This is where The Boogeyman, one of the new movies adapted from the works of Stephen King, begins. There’s the struggling father Dr Will Harper (Chris Messina), who hosts his therapy clients in the family home, an emotionally wrecked teenage daughter Sadie (Sophie Thatcher), and her little sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), who has a token fear of the dark.
When Dr Harper is visited by a frazzled and tragic man, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), who has suffered the wrath of a malevolent being, the Harper family soon find themselves stalked by a dark presence.
The original short story on which the horror movie is based contains the usual King schema; parental distress, child death, and creepy lore. It’s not exactly light fare, considering the subject matter, so it’s legitimately puzzling that The Boogeyman actively decides to take no risks whatsoever.
In fact, in adapting the tale, any semblance of what makes a Stephen King story so morbidly enjoyable seems to have been left at the door. There is only one scene, in which Sadie visits the home of Lester Billings and encounters his wife, that feels remotely King-esque. Aside from this authentically eerie conversation that ends on a nicely frightening beat, fans of the literary behemoth will likely leave unsatisfied.
The film begins in earnest when Dastmalchian’s Lester Billings turns up on the family’s doorstep, begging Dr Harper to hear him out. What follows is perhaps the most enticing scene in the movie, exhibiting an appropriately creepy performance from Dastmalchian (who, true to form, adds a lot with his small amount of screen time) and an ability to refrain from revealing the titular legend that, sadly, doesn’t last long once this monster movie gets going.
In fact, when the Boogeyman itself is revealed, you’ll be left wondering why they bothered showing it at all. It’s a disappointment when, despite working with a creature that’s not bound to any physical prerequisites, the movie presents nothing more than the standard lanky, plasticky, floor-crawler fare.
The only impressive thing about Boogey is revealed during the final confrontation, where we witness a character design element that’s surprisingly unusual and effective. If only they’d held back the initial reveal even longer, the film would have been much stronger for it.
Admittedly, there are a number of decent jump-scares that blindside the audience, catching us off guard with their sheer brazenness. But, as we all know, a few effective jumpscares does not a great horror movie make.
It’s a shame because, historically, the best Stephen King adaptations have always found their strength in his atmosphere and inherently creepy imagery rather than a few fast shocks. Boogeyman didn’t get the memo, it seems.
But it’s not a complete disaster, since some cleverly framed shots and a handful of creepy moments keep the story’s blood pumping, and a few scenes — such as a light-based therapy technique, a conversation from under the covers, and some misguided tooth-pulling — do stand out. What’s more, some clever and chilling sound design make certain moments play a little stronger, but none of it’s quite enough to warrant a sleepless night.
The film’s end contains a nod to the original published story, but it ultimately falls flat and leaves audiences wishing that things had been pushed further in order to create a movie that sticks.
Although it wants to, The Boogeyman won’t place on a list of the best Stephen King adaptations because, sadly, this is one short story that perhaps should have stayed short.
If you want to get well and truly spooked, check out our lists of the best ghost movies and best zombie movies now. See what we know about The Exorcist: Believer release date, or if you love The King, get the lowdown on the Welcome to Derry release date. And when you’re done, get stuck into some of the best movies of all time.
The Boogeyman review
We don’t think our father, the inventor of horror, would be too pleased to hear about this.