Over the years not as many horror films as you would expect dare to kill the kid. There is of course the unforgettable crash scene in director Mary Lambert’s adaptation of Stephen King’s Pet Sematary and with his first big studio film, director Rob Savage (working from a screenplay by A Quiet Place writers and based on a short story by King) joins Lambert in his decision to off a child with a creepily effective prologue. Following the innovative Host and the controversial Dashcam, Savage delivers a well-crafted if somewhat derivative haunted-house meets creature feature horror about grief.
Dad and therapist Will (Chris Messina) is grieving the death of his wife, while holding down his job and attempting to raise his two daughters, teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher from Yellowjackets) and youngest Abby (Mabel Tyler). When mysterious stranger Lester (David Dastmalchian) enters their house seeking therapy, he unleashes an entity that clings to the family’s sadness and deepest fears. The screenplay takes time to shade in the family dynamics, with Sadie’s teen angst a focal point, which in turn makes you care about what happens to the characters.
Savage displays creative flair when it comes to building dread and a great eye for satisfying match cuts. He employs neat use of camcorder shots and at one point a slow-developing jump scare involving a polaroid photo is meticulously rendered to startling effect. His knowledge of the genre is apparent from creepy nods to haunted house films, but some of the references to films from the Alien franchise rob the film of a visual distinctiveness.
What does work in the film’s favour are the dedicated performances. Thatcher truly inhabits her moody, socially awkward teen and both her and Messina credibly translate their characters’ sorrow. Tyler gets some memorable sequences, and the young actress really sells the sheer terror of her innocent character.
While The Boogeyman takes the emotions at the core of the film seriously, it isn’t afraid to use humour and shift tones when necessary, and the use of Elvis’ Hunk of Burning Love is a particularly funny note to end the film on.
The Boogeyman will be released in cinemas on 2 June 2023.