After the grabby, career-making Zoom chiller Host and its too-abrasive-by-half follow-up Dashcam, The Boogeyman finds emergent Brit Rob Savage making nice and settling into the potentially rewarding multiplex horror space: PG-13 certificate, cosy-ish domestic settings, regular (not ineffective) jump scares, the sound design you get on even a moderate studio budget, somebody else's script. In-demand genre tinkerers Scott Beck and Bryan Woods (A Quiet Place, 65) have extrapolated from one of Stephen King's early, nasty short stories - essentially a few pages of dialogue between two people mired in grief - the tale of a lopsided family trying to right itself in the wake of the matriarch's death in a car accident. The two daughters - resilient pre-teen Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) and brooding high-schooler Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) - have hang-ups enough to be working through; their psychiatrist dad Will (Chris Messina) bluffly holds to carrying on regardless, until a hulking, pallid walk-in (David Dastmalchian, the darkside Paul Dano) confesses to having watched his own children die and promptly shuffles off to string himself up in an adjacent closet. If Host and Dashcam represented New Horror, 21st century in both their use of technology and framing, The Boogeyman is very much horror of the old school, familiar in everything from its scares to the structure Savage, Beck and Woods situate them in. These characters are established as being in a dark place; a midfilm shift to a secondary location sheds a little more light on what's bugging them; and finally everybody returns to the family fold for a climactic showdown between good and evil.
There's almost nothing new under this bed, in other words, but Beck and Woods do a solid job of both extracting and expanding the core theme of King's source material (how grief intrudes), and Savage has found economical and effective ways of making that theme cinematic. (Principally, a near-fetishistic attention to the doors that might let these characters' demons in and out, each threshold a potential scene of ultra-specific, highly localised bumps in the night.) It's not just a technical exercise, thankfully. Savage casts well, and he draws committed, involving work from his actors, especially Thatcher (from TV's Yellowjackets), who bears a spooky resemblance to the young Melissa George in places, and Messina, who - to this red-blooded heterosexual onlooker - would appear a far shrewder choice for the role of Post-Clooney Red Hot Silver Fox Zaddy than this Pedro Pascal fellow the Internet seems to have settled on. In an interview on the Kermode and Mayo podcast last week, Savage explained his aim with this first studio assignment was to make the kind of film that introduces horror to a particular audience - the audience that won't yet have seen, say, Jack Clayton's The Innocents, and who not coincidentally have the disposable income to have their popcorn rattled by Dolby surround sound at semi-regular intervals. The Boogeyman is no less upfront about what it's doing: it opens up a weighty, squeaky-hinged portal before the viewer, ushers us all into the darkness beyond it, and then slams it behind us with some skill and force. It's gateway horror, in more ways than one.
The Boogeyman is now playing in cinemas nationwide.