The Boogeyman

The Boogeyman

2023, PG-13, 98 min. Directed by Rob Savage. Starring Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, David Dastmalchian, Madison Hu, Marin Ireland.

REVIEWED By Matthew Monagle, Fri., June 2, 2023

In 2020, director Rob Savage gave movie fans a much-needed distraction with the release of Host. Shot and set during COVID-19 lockdowns, the Zoom-based Host became a pandemic favorite and made Savage a rising star in the horror community. Years later, Savage has been given an actual Hollywood budget for The Boogeyman to prove that his skills go beyond the screenlife subgenre. Yet while the director proves himself more than up to the challenge, the film itself falls victim to some of the most frustrating tropes of modern horror.

After losing her mother, Sadie (Thatcher) struggles to pick up the pieces of her life. But unfortunately, her father (Messina), a therapist himself, cannot bring himself to talk with his daughter about their shared trauma. So when younger sister Sawyer (Blair) begins to report seeing a terrifying creature in the dark, Sadie is forced to step up and retrace a series of tragic local deaths to understand the danger her family is in.

Making a horror movie about creatures stuck in the dark is always the right idea. Films like Lights Out – or even Darkness Falls, which will undoubtedly have its reputation reclaimed by some brave soul in the coming years – paved a solid path for box-office success. Working under a PG-13 rating, Savage creates real tension with his creature, culminating in a ridiculous (but not unwelcome) gunfight between the shadow monster and the widow Billings (Ireland, who always deserves more). Judged only on its set pieces, The Boogeyman straddles the cinematic language of prestige and multiplex horror with surprising confidence.

The problem is the script, loosely adapted from a 1973 short story by Stephen King. Genuinely great horror films can use traumatic experiences as a framework to understand personal isolation. However, too many contemporary writers and filmmakers have adopted the veneer of trauma without engaging honestly with its interpersonal effects. For example, one of the major narrative arcs in The Boogeyman sees Sadie being retraumatized by her former circle of friends; while it might be a nice idea in theory, in practice, it only serves to pull back the curtain and reveal the gears of the genre spinning overtime. The Boogeyman is in such a rush to strip away any happiness from its heroine that it resorts to a cold, unempathetic view of the world never mirrored in her home life or disposition.

And that makes The Boogeyman a tough film to enjoy even when things are going right. The direction and performance do the heavy lifting, but we have seen so many versions of this movie in recent years – films about mourning characters in a spiral of death and demons – that it is admittedly hard to engage honestly with a film that falls into the same traps. We root for any character in the movie to do right by Sadie, but each person in her life lets her down in the most predictable ways. Even a dynamic final sequence is undercut by a dour stinger we can sense coming from a mile away.

Maybe Savage’s film is the latest in a long line of half-hearted trauma horror. Or perhaps it’s a slick little programmer that has the misfortune of coming at the tail end of a cinematic trend. It’s hard to tell anymore; we’ve reached the point in any genre cycle where a little time will be needed to separate the wheat from the chaff. To its credit, at least, The Boogeyman is less a meditation on mental illness and more an A24-sized creature feature. Here’s hoping Hollywood continues to remember that maybe, just maybe, we weren’t the monster all along.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for over 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

More Rob Savage Films
POV horror comedy punishes you with the real worst person in the world

Richard Whittaker, June 3, 2022

Screenlife horror is more than a ghost in the machine

Richard Whittaker, July 31, 2020

More by Matthew Monagle
Fantastic Fest Review: <i>The Creator</i>
The Creator
Sci fi epic is grand in vision but can't fill its scale

Sept. 29, 2023

Pointless action sequel should have gone straight to video

Sept. 29, 2023


The Boogeyman, Rob Savage, Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivien Lyra Blair, David Dastmalchian, Madison Hu, Marin Ireland

One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Keep up with happenings around town

Kevin Curtin's bimonthly cannabis musings

Austin's queerest news and events

Eric Goodman's Austin FC column, other soccer news

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle