The Boogeyman movie poster

The Boogeyman

In theaters June 2, 2023


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108 minutes

Directed by:

Starring: , , ,

Plenty of movies deal with the trauma of losing a parent and childhood grief like The Glass House (2001), A Monster Calls (2016), Becky (2020), and Meghan (2023), and few of them do it well. That sentence may sound like this movie is on track to be deeply unsettling with moments of terrifying action, but I won’t lie to you. The Boogeyman (2023) only barely manages some sharp scares, for which I am completely crediting director Rob Savage, but there isn’t enough to sustain for 98 minutes. I could generously speculate that the trimmed running time left a lot of backstory on the floor, but even that imagined explanation doesn’t account for whatever it was I had to watch.

The Boogeyman isn’t the worst Stephen King adaptation we’ve had in a while, but it is the most disappointing in the last two years.

The Harper Family is grieving after the loss of their Matriarch, Cara (Shauna Rappold). Dad Will (Chris Messina) continues with his home office therapy-practice, teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) is feeling adrift with no one to talk to, and pre-teen Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) is suffering from anxiety nightmares because her mother just died. When Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) arrives without an appointment at Will’s practice in a visibly agitated state, Will feels obligated to assist. Lester suffers from the ongoing public scrutiny of losing multiple children due to crib deaths, and just needs someone to talk to. This sets off a chain of events in the Harper household testing the power of childhood fears in league with unbidden supernatural forces. Lester has brought something into the Harper House, and it’s come for the children.


Honestly, if the screenwriters had just stuck with the original framework of the original short story, “The Boogeyman” (Night Shift, Doubleday, 1978), it wouldn’t be such a convoluted mess. In the original short story, Lester Billings is on the run from a creature that has specifically targeted Lester’s children, entering and exiting through closets. He’s seeing a therapist, Dr Harper, because he doesn’t want to feel like a debilitating psychosis is looming, but at the same time he knows this creature is real. The reveal (spoilers) is Lester has been talking to the Boogeyman the entire time in the guise of Dr Harper and the horror will never stop.

That’s the movie I wanted to see. I wanted to see a menacing creature that eats children hounding a man from house to house, leaving him with nowhere to turn.

Instead, it appears that screenwriters Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman, skimmed the short story, and cobbled together other half-remembered movies into a “child in peril” film with a plucky teen anti-hero. Why there is the shift from terrified father on the run to two older children who have mostly outgrown the “boogeyman” fear is baffling. That this creature needs to be brought into the homes of children in order to terrorize feels like a cheat. I mean, isn’t the terror of monsters that they just know where you live?

Once the creature is in the Harper house, it takes forever for it to decide young Sawyer is maybe worth eating, like several nights’ worth of time. Why, you may ask? It’s okay to ask, because I kept asking myself the same question for 20 minutes. Since I watched the whole movie, I can tell you, no one knows and no one cares. I can also tell you it was still terrorizing Lester Billings’ widow in their former house – you know, the graffiti tagged, dilapidated house now completely devoid of children because they’re already dead?

In this adaptation, there is no origin for The Boogeyman, and I’m okay with that. Origin stories can create sympathies, which can soften the impact of how terrifying monsters can be, fostering a “they’re not bad, just misunderstood” mentality. I am even fine with spontaneous manifestations of monsters when the conditions are perfect. Yet, according to the screenwriters, the only conditions needed to summon this creature are a cluttered closet and an emotionally distant parent.

It could be in my closet RIGHT NOW.

The logic train for attracting ancient child-eating creatures still needs tracks rooted in common sense, especially in a town that has bustling elementary and high schools. I think they were hoping no one would notice.

Because The Boogeyman is a movie that needs to know it’s down with the kids, there’s a shoehorned storyline of the troubled Sadie publicly dealing with the death of her mother in high school, the most compassionate place on earth for anyone dealing with unresolved emotional trauma. She has one friend who, in Sadie’s bereavement absence, has been absorbed into a clique of mean girls, isolating Sadie even further. This is sad. Sadie, being super prickly and sensitive, still angles for acceptance by these trailing Gen Z sociopaths. This is sadder. By this point in the movie, our intrepid screenwriters have completely lost the thread and throw a teen “party”, complete with an ancient spliff Sadie found in her mother’s things. These are screenwriters who either do not have teen children, or they have never experienced a happening, where folks get together to listen to music and talk about the topical teen news of the day. Instead, they fall back on tropes seen better performed in other movies. The mean girls get to be mean, the pariah is further isolated, and it’s a wasted scene with dark closets and glowing eyes that neither adds to the threadbare story nor furthers the plot.

The overall set designs were also confusing as there seems to be a trend of establishing exterior shots of homes where the interior does not match the architecture like someone fast-forwarded a lot through You Should Have Left (2020) and the scariest thing they sort of remembered was that the house was bigger in the inside. Labyrinthine basements, school lockers with moldy food, and doctor’s offices with therapy rooms that lead directly to the street only add to the disconnect, as if the screenwriters and production designers had never set foot in actual homes, schools, or doctor’s offices. In another scene that probably belongs in another movie, the second floor of the abandoned Billings’ house is nothing but stubs of candles keeping The Boogeyman at bay.

Candles. Ancient child-murdering evil kept at by an instrument of light easily snuffed by a stiff breeze.

So, yeah, if you’re still planning on heading out to see The Boogeyman, whatever you’re expecting, set it aside. It’s a nearly passable horror film with zero substance or connection and unmemorable in every other regard. For a well-budgeted Hollywood film, this doesn’t hold a candle to the 1982 no-budget adaptation ( by Jeff Schiro, which I recommend not only for its faithfulness to the source material but because you can tell someone really tried.

This version will be released on Hulu soon, and if you’re feeling generous, you can add it to your watchlist and forget about it.

The Boogyman (2023) is rated PG-13 for swears, mild drug use, glowing eyes in dark spaces, teen bullying, ghosts, and the destruction of a $30 moon ball I was sorry to see smashed.

The Boogeyman is streaming now on the following services:
Movie Reelist Contributor: MontiLee Stormer
MontiLee Stormer is a writer of horror, dark and urban fantasy. She’s also is a troublemaker, concocting acts of mayhem and despair for her own selfish pleasure. An avid movie watcher, she prefers horror but will see just about anything if you're buying. Poltergeist (1982) is her favorite movie and she actively hates The Shining (1980) due to its racism, misogyny, the butchering of the source material. She could host a TEDtalk on this single subject. Writing about herself in the third person is just a bonus.

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