The Boogeyman review: Stephen King adaptation goes bump in the night

Daisy Phillipson
Sophie Thatcher as Sadie in The Boogeyman

Time to get those nightlights out of retirement, as The Boogeyman is upon us. Though it doesn’t reinvent the wheel, Host filmmaker Rob Savage has taken a Stephen King story and extended it to create an effectively creepy horror movie, one that has plenty of jump scares and a heartfelt family story weaved into the narrative. 

Rob Savage rose to worldwide fame with the release of his claustrophobic pandemic horror Host, about a séance on Zoom gone wrong. The filmmaker took the relatable anxieties society was feeling at that time and ran with them, delivering an impactful supernatural thriller. Though it proved a divisive film, his follow-up Dashcam was eerie and went against the grain by featuring a truly dislikable lead character. 

Sure, the low-budget, found footage style subgenre has been around for some time, having risen to infamy with the release of The Blair Witch Project, but Savage’s work hit the refresh button and proved there are still plenty of ways to terrify viewers with a simple premise. Host currently has a 99% Rotten Tomatoes score, and was recently dubbed the “scariest movie of all time”, according to science – which is mighty impressive given the whole thing started as a prank. 

But anyone expecting to see a closer to a screenlife trilogy with his latest project, think again. The Boogeyman is a departure from Savage’s usual style, swapping out malevolent spirits with things that go bump in the night. The film is an extension of Stephen King’s short story of the same name, and offers the filmmaker a far bigger budget (and bigger stars) to play with. 

The Boogeyman extends Stephen King’s horrifying vision

Anyone who’s read King’s story will wonder how it can be made into a feature-length affair, given that it is essentially a chat between two people. A grieving father named Lester Billings goes to see psychiatrist Dr Harper, where he tells him about the eponymous monster, and how it had been stalking his children for years. He admits to not believing his kids, allowing the Boogeyman to come in and kill each of them one by one. 

In Savage’s adaptation, when Billings (David Dastmalchian) is finished with his declaration, the entity is left behind in the home of Dr Will Harper, who is already dealing with plenty of demons of his own. After his wife died in a tragic car accident, he’s tasked with looking after their two daughters, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair). Sadly, his expertise in the psychiatry field doesn’t translate when it comes to his own life, and his inability to open up to his kids and discuss the devastating loss prevents them from dealing with their pain. 

We soon learn that such a scenario creates the perfect hunting ground for the Boogeyman. As warned by Billings: “It comes for your kids when you’re not paying attention.” Harper brushes off the warning, which is fair enough when you’ve dealt with so many delusions in the past. But you can’t help but empathize with his youngest, Sawyer – who already has a fear of the dark – as the creature begins stalking her in the night and her pleas fall on deaf ears. When Sadie is made the second target, she is tasked with helping her younger sister and putting a stop to the Boogeyman before it destroys their already fractured family.

The Boogeyman features unexpected jump scares and incredible cast performances

The Boogeyman is the classic “behind you” style of scary (they even say it at one point), bound to leave audiences checking their cupboards and under the bed before they go to sleep at night. Savage makes good use of lighting and sound design to build tension for the rug-pull jump scares. The filmmaker has a way of baiting the audience into thinking they’re in for a jolter, before lowering the pace – and just when those guards go down, he ramps it up to 11 with an unexpected shock. It’s extremely effective, especially in the earlier scenes of the movie when we’re yet to be introduced to the light-loathing insectoid.

Though some may argue The Boogeyman bears too much of a resemblance to the likes of A Quiet Place and Lights Out, there’s enough to set it apart from other creature horrors, notably the second narrative relating to the struggles between the already fractured Harper family. The parallels between the two devices might be a little on-the-nose, but they are balanced, and the conflict between Will, Sadie, and Sawyer and their fragmented grief feels genuine thanks to standout performances from the cast.

Sophie Thatcher as Sadie, Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer, and Chris Messina as Will in The Boogeyman

Just as she does in Yellowjackets, Sophie Thatcher demonstrates an expert level of emotional range and vulnerability as Sadie, while Sawyer’s Vivien Lyra Blair – who recently appeared in the Fatal Attraction series – is surely a star in the making, matching Thatcher’s range despite her young age. Equally, Chris Messina gives a convincing performance as their father, Will. Although the movie deals with heavy topics, there are moments of lightness too, with the quips peppered throughout made genuinely funny thanks to their delivery. Oh, and let’s not forget the smart inclusion of a Host easter egg, as Sadie tries to contact her mom from beyond the grave.  

Arguably, The Boogeyman’s weakest point is the monster itself. Savage demonstrated with his previous films that less is more – sometimes the scariest things are what we don’t see, a device used so well in Host. Perhaps his latest work should have followed the same route. In this instance, the titular creature is a CGI creation, one that looks suspiciously like the noise-sensitive aliens in the aforementioned A Quiet Place. And the more we see of it, the less uncanny it becomes. It’s also the vehicle for the biggest plot hole: it is both a supernatural entity and a physical one that can bleed. Though the ending doesn’t exactly set up a sequel, there’s definitely room for this story to continue, so perhaps this question will be answered in a follow-up.

The Boogeyman review score: 4/5

Despite a mild case of deja vu, The Boogeyman is a solid new entry to the horror genre, one that stays true to its source material and is far from the lower end of Stephen King adaptations. Though the monster itself is a little too digitized, the jump scares make up for it, as do the impeccable cast performances. Horror junkies, this is well worth a watch.

The Boogeyman releases in cinemas on June 2, 2023. You can check out our other horror coverage here.

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