It’s no secret that Stephen King adaptations are a hit or miss - last year’s Firestarter was atrocious, for example. Now Rob Savage brings us an adaptation of the short story “The Boogeyman” featured in the short story collection Night Shift (and in a magazine in the early 70s). The 2023 film is hardly an adaptation as it’s a pseudo-sequel that takes the creature and the short story’s narrative and crosses them with a new set of characters and a new story. The adaptation strips the short story of its narrative style and plot twist and opts for a more traditional approach but it does it well leading to a pleasant result that does not suck (mostly).
The prologue is very ominous and slowly establishes the mood of the film with good camerawork and shock which the film struggles to maintain throughout its runtime. The director and the cinematographer use practical lighting to their advantage as a lot of tension and scares are created using moving lights and shadows motivated by the characters operating lights or objects that light up. The filmmakers opt to rarely show the creature and keep it in the shadows or out of focus, leaving two small glinting eyes to be the indicators of the creature being on screen. There is a lot of good camera work to stage jumpscares and moments of tension and to me a lot of them landed but they were not really scary or disturbing – a higher age rating wouldn’t have improved this but drawing out the tension and holding some shots would’ve helped. The screenplay has its own problems. A character shows up in the middle of the film as some “exposition deus ex machina” which explains everything and tells (directly and indirectly) what the protagonist should do – this character’s inclusion was a bit bizarre to me and even though their usage was justifiable I found their presence and implications on the story to take away from the journey of the main characters. The third act was by far my least favorite part because once it starts it generically plays out beat by beat like every monster horror film. The short story had a very good ending and I wished they used it as an inspiration for this film’s closing minutes (but I do think they definitely shot it and tested it with audiences then chose to remove it). The film’s family and grief themes were a nice touch to give the story more depth but the screenplay failed to do something original with them. The runtime could’ve been 5-10 minutes shorter.
The leading cast was very good: Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair did a terrific job, though Chris Messina was okay. David Dastmalchian rocks. The rest did a good job at playing their assigned characters who were stereotypical: classmates who are bullies, that one supportive friend who isn’t really supportive, etc… you know the drill.
I was really fond of the sound design and the score. The creature design was simplistic yet efficient.
The audience – mostly friend groups – was having a blast: reacting to the rising tension, shouting at characters, laughing when they get spooked, guessing and screaming…. They seemed to have had a good time.
Overall, The Boogeyman is a decent horror film that plays it safely but at least has some style and inventive scares on its side which make it worth a watch.