"It's really dark and scary and f*cked up!" Director Rob Savage on The Boogeyman - SciFiNow

“It’s really dark and scary and f*cked up!” Director Rob Savage on The Boogeyman

We dare to take a look under the bed to take a deep dive into The Boogeyman with director Rob Savage.

Based on the 1973 short story by Stephen King and directed by Host and Dashcam’s Rob Savage, The Boogeyman follows high school student Sadie Harper (Sophie Thatcher) and her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), who are reeling from the recent death of their mother and aren’t getting much support from their father, Will (Chris Messina), a therapist who is dealing with his own pain. When a desperate patient unexpectedly shows up at their home seeking help, he leaves behind a terrifying supernatural entity that preys on families and feeds on the suffering of its victims…

We spoke to Rob Savage about The Boogeyman, his favourite Stephen King adaptations, and what makes him such a horror fan…

How did everything begin for you with The Boogeyman?

So I came on board and the awesome Beck and Woods [Scott Beck & Bryan Woods], who had created A Quiet Place had written a draft [of the script].

I was familiar with the short story – I read it as a kid and it suitably fucked me up – so when I saw Stephen King, The Boogeyman, and the writers of A Quiet Place, I got very excited. It was shortly after Host had come out that I got offered this and I read the script and I thought they’d done a really great job, just kind of conceptually, where to take such a threadbare short story.

Really [the short story] takes place just in an office and the genius thing that [Beck and Woods] hit on was taking this short story and making that almost the ‘Act One’ which then sets in motion this demonic creature movie.

They had a very different take on the material – their script had Will, the therapist, father character as the lead character, and I instinctively thought that the best version of the story would be one told from the perspective of a younger character. [So] I brought on Mark Heyman, who wrote Black Swan and who’s absolutely fantastic – we worked together over a few months and reframed the story so that it was really about these two sisters facing the creature and their dad being this disbelieving presence.

The concept was: you have this kid who’s of the age where you’d expect them to be seeing the Boogeyman in the closet. Then our main character Sadie, played by Sophie Thatcher, is kind of on the cusp between childhood and adulthood, so she’s playing both sides and doesn’t know who to believe. It’s her investigation into whether this creature is real or not. That really is the meat of the story.

I still can’t believe they let us make it. It’s really dark and scary and fucked up!

“I read the script and I thought they’d done a really great job…”

What was it about The Boogeyman that stood out to you when you first read it as a kid?

I think there’s something about it being so slight that actually makes it more disturbing. It never explicitly speaks to the horror that’s lying dormant underneath this conversation, but it feels like it’s scratching at this darker truth about the universe, and the nature of evil.

It felt kind of like staring into the abyss reading as a kid. It felt like it was speaking to a very adult darkness that I don’t think I was quite prepared for as a terrified little 13-year-old under my bed with a flashlight!

What does it mean to you to take on a Stephen King story?

Oh, it’s terrifying. The thing that I had in the back of my mind is just how brutally honest King is when he doesn’t like something! He famously is not a fan of The Shining and so I was like, ‘we really better make this good’. Because he was the only audience that certainly I cared about.

It’s always been a bit of a bucket list thing to do a Stephen King adaptation and to work on a story that had meant something to me growing up. King read the initial draft and had some really lovely feedback on that and all throughout the process [he’s been] hugely supportive. Then we showed him the movie and he, thank God, loved it. It’s all very surreal.

Sadie (left, played by Sophie Thatcher), is investigating whether the boogeyman is real or not.

Do you have a favourite Stephen King adaptation?

It’s not a horror one, but I think Stand By Me is just a perfect movie. It’s so evocative of being that age and having those friends and those discoveries. I was around the age of those characters when I watched it and I would just watch it on repeat every day when I got back from school, so that’s an incredibly special movie to me.

But I love all the obvious ones. The Mist is one that I find myself watching a lot in terms of the more recent King adaptations, and I thought Andy [Muschietti] did a fantastic job on IT, which is really the standard to beat in terms of modern Stephen King.

“IT is really the standard to beat in terms of modern Stephen King”

You have a lot of experience with short movies, is there anything you’ve taken from your work on shorts that you’ve applied with The Boogeymen?

I think not testing the audience’s patience is a big one. When you’re making short films, you’ve really got to get to the point, because not many people like short films. To be honest, I’m not even sure that I like short films. But if you’re watching one and it’s taking its bloody time, you’re going to skip or you’re going to check your phone.

I think that kind of clarity of purpose was something that I was really looking to in shooting this – this movie is only 93 minutes, so I wanted there to be no fat on the bone.

This was a healthy budgeted studio movie, but there’s always never enough time. There’s always never enough resources. There’s always a sense of having to think on the fly and I think making so many of those zero-budget short films just came in so handy because I knew what we needed to get in order to make this fly, and what we could forego if we ran up against it time wise.

You used sound to great effect on your 2020 movie Host, how important is sound when it comes to telling horror stories like The Boogeyman?

The whole sound team on [The Boogeyman] was just extraordinary and sound plays a huge part in this movie.

My pitch for this movie was to treat it as though it was a haunted house movie. It’s a Creature Feature at the end of the day, but I wanted to hark back to those classic haunted house movies like The Haunting and The Innocents from 1961. Those movies barely show you anything but they infer so much through sound design, and creepy composition.

There was a lot we were trying to do in this movie to set the audience’s mind on fire but not necessarily show you exactly what it is to be afraid of. To give you just enough that your mind fills in those blanks.

I was always comparing it to movies like Alien and Jaws, which is the classic template for showing just enough of the big bad.

Director Rob Savage has treated The Boogeyman like a haunted house story.

What kind of scares can audiences expect from The Boogeyman?

The third act is very much a Creature Feature. Without spoiling too much, suffice it to say there are things that we do with the creature when we finally do see it… I don’t think anyone has ever seen anything like the places we go with that final act.

So when we become a creature movie, we go hard as a creature movie!

Up until that point, it’s very much a slow-burn haunted house [movie]. I was very inspired by James Wan’s Conjuring movies in terms of the way that he brilliantly sets up his jump scares. He’s really the modern master of the jump scare and anyone who’s seen Host knows that I love a good jump scare but it’s got to be unique and it’s got to be well earned. So we’ve got a fair few really fucking good jump scares.

But also I wanted to get this sense of a mounting dread that’s pervasive throughout the film. I wanted it to feel like you never quite knew where the next scare was coming from and that there was a kind of amping up that happens across the whole movie.

So it’s fun, it’s scary, but hopefully it’s got some undercurrent of dread that gets under your skin.

“We’ve got a fair few really fucking good jump scares”

You said in our previous interview that David Dastmalchien “is mind blowingly good” in The Boogeyman – could you expand on that and the role he plays in the movie?

He plays Lester Billings from the short story. He’s the harbinger of doom who comes into the movie in Act One; talking about his belief that this supernatural creature is responsible for the death of his three children and in doing so kind of inadvertently infects this family with the demonic presence.

The thing that I’ll say about what’s so genius about David’s take on the character is that he takes the Lester Billings of the Stephen King story, who’s very aggressively bigoted and not hugely sympathetic, and me and David reimagined that character as being somebody much more sympathetic. He’s a guy who’s in pain and who’s looking to be understood [but] who (and this is really the beauty of David’s performance) can still switch on a dime and become threatening and terrifying and imposing. He’s got that kind of unpredictability that makes you just lean forward and micro analyse every single twitch and aspect of his performance.

So it’s a really unique take on the character and I think it’s a scene for the ages. I really do.

When he came in, we did take one and you could feel everyone just had goosebumps. It was the thing that I was most scared of because that’s the one that’s lifted directly from King and I think what he bought to it makes it iconic.

David Dastmalchien plays Lister from the short story and Rob Savage says everyone had goosebumps when he came in to shoot.

What do you think it is about horror that pulls audiences in?

For me, it’s the communal experience. There’s a real beauty to feeling as though you’re all on the same roller coaster ride and when you’re watching a movie, where the build up of tension, the release of the jump scare plays in a room full of people and you’re all going through that exact same experience… there’s something kind of beautifully bonding about that.

I also think the horror genre can speak to dark subject matters that we don’t really want to talk about or acknowledge in a way that doesn’t feel overly heavy. Our movie touches on themes of grief – the sisters have lost their mother and the actors are incredible. The script is really meaty and dramatic and it’s not like a kind of movie version of grief. It really feels authentic.

I think the fact that you can have that in a movie where you’ve also got a demon jumping around on the ceiling. That is the beautiful thing about horror. You get the fun and the scares but you can also sink your teeth into something dramatic and truthful.

“Horror can speak to dark subject matters that we don’t really want to talk about.”

You’re set to work on another horror soon with Night Of The Ghoul, how is that coming along?

Night Of The Ghoul is really exciting. Mark Heyman (who wrote The Boogeyman) is writing that and he’s just turned in a draft which is really fucking cool. Again, as a horror fan, I’m reading it thinking I haven’t seen anything like this, ever I don’t think. So I’m really excited for that.

What else are you working on right now?

I’m not sure I can say specifically but I’ve got adaptations of some of the short films which are shaping up really well.

There’s one movie in particular that’s a demonic chase movie – it’s like race with the devil, but with a murderous demon, which I’m really excited about and that feels like it’s close to going.

These last three years I’ve shot three movies and I’m hoping to keep the movie-a-year thing going. That’s my aim: a movie a year until I die!

The Boogeyman will be released in cinemas on 2 June 2023.