Movie teenagers are the worst, but the teens in attendance at my screening of The Boogeyman made the experience all the more enjoyable. Screaming at every minor sound effect, hiding their faces under the covers they brought specifically for that reason and praying they don’t have to overcome a fear of the dark for a second time in their lives after seeing the latest from director Rob Savage (Host). Their reactions honestly may have influenced my enjoyment of the film slightly but only because it became very clear how effective the film was at working on its target audience just as it intended. 

The Boogeyman doesn't offer the most original premise, no, but Savage knows how to construct jump scares and build atmosphere; both of which are key to enjoying this well-made and effective horror flick even if the themes and conceit don’t reinvent the wheel. Beginning with the offscreen death of an infant is one way to set a tone (sorry if that's a spoiler) yet Savage goes there and leans into the idea of death without fear of alienating his audience. Rather, the dynamics and situations of his prmary cast members are strong out the gate because Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman's screenplay takes its time in both describing and processing the grief each character is experiencing and handling in different ways.

The Harper family, consisting of a father and his two daughters - one a teen and one on the brink of being a tween - lost their wife and mother to a car accident just over a month ago. Sophie Thatcher's Sadie obviously isn't ready to let go, but is having a hard time with even the idea of it. The thought of having to wash her mom's smell out of her clothes breaks her already broken heart and repeatedly looking at the final text messages she'll never get a response to doesn't help either. Meanwhile, her dad (Chris Messina) has completely shut himself off and can't speak about his late wife even when Sadie attempts to reconcile their wounds together. Messina's Will knows better, him being a therapist himself, but he also understands he’s not in a place where he can help heal others of the thing that has broken him. Vivien Lyra Blair plays young Sawyer who seems the least affected outwardly but quickly becomes the most haunted literally as the film's monster in the closet comes for her first; amplifying the fear she'd likely tried to bury in the wake of her mother's absence. 

Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, and Vivien Lyra Blair star in The Boogeyman.
Photo by Patti Perret / 20th Century Studios - © 20th Century Studios

Though familiar, these ideas of grief and of coping and how the deeper the roots the harder it is to let go are each set up with such care and guided with such a steady hand that they resonate more than they might were the film interested in nothing more than eliciting the jump scares from those ideas. I haven't read the Stephen King short story on which this is based and therefore can't really speak to how the film resolves itself, but it does somewhat devolve into your standard horror/slasher where the vanquishing of the evil antagonist is questionable at best (it always bothers me when something so cryptic and inexplicable is defeated with something more tactile), but as far as the emotional arcs of the characters are concerned, they were clearly the priority of the filmmakers making the journey a satisfying one even if the monster itself isn't a memorable one. Although, those teens sitting in the row in front of me would absolutely have a few things to say about that.

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