PG-13 horror movies often get a bad rap since the mainstream-friendly rating means the elements of terror, blood, and gore would be toned down. While there are some truths to that (‘Darkness Falls’ being one of them), Hollywood has plenty of worthy PG-13 horror movies proving you don’t necessarily need a hard R-rating to make a scary movie. Notable movies such as ‘The Sixth Sense,’ ‘Drag Me to Hell’ and ‘A Quiet Place’ is a good case in point, and now, added to the list is ‘The Boogeyman.’
The movie, which is adapted from Stephen King’s 1973 short story of the same name, happens to be written by the same ‘Quiet Place’ screenwriting duo Scott Beck and Bryan Woods, with additional input from Mark Heyman (‘Black Swan’). And not to be confused with the (almost) similarly titled but non-related ‘Boogeyman’ trilogy released in the late 2000s, ‘The Boogeyman’ marks the first time Rob Savage handled a major studio picture. While I personally wish it would be nice to see him directing another R-rated movie just like he did in ‘Host’ and ‘Dashcam,’ I’m glad he doesn’t turn ‘The Boogeyman’ into a watered-down PG-13 horror.
But first, the story: Following the tragic death of their mother in a car accident, high-school student Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and her little sister, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair), are still grieving while their therapist-father, Will (Chris Messina), doesn’t really talk about it. He seems to be emotionally disconnected and continues working as usual until one crucial day changes everything for the worse.
A mysterious stranger named Lester (David Dastmalchian) shows up at Will’s home and demanded a consultation in a hurry. Will is reluctant at first but allows Lester to open up to him during the therapy session. Apparently, Lester’s story has something to do with the unspeakable entity that results in the murder of his children. The entity refers to the titular boogeyman, which later haunts Will’s children during nighttime.
The story about a supernatural entity terrorizing the children in the night is nothing new, but despite the familiarity, Savage proves he has what it takes to make a terrifying PG-13 horror movie. He pushes the boundaries of the rating by utilizing the combination of perfectly-timed jump scares and the power of suggestion. With the help of cinematographer Eli Born alongside music composer Patrick Jonsson and production designer Jeremy Woodward, Savage made good use of the darkness, shadows, and lights to generate spine-tingling suspense and horror.
The impeccable sound design helps, too, giving it an aural cinematic big-screen experience. No doubt 20th Century Studios has made the right choice releasing it in the theaters since ‘The Boogeyman’ is originally planned for a straight-to-streaming release on Hulu. Scenes like Sawyer uses her light ball to illuminate any presence in the darkness of her bedroom, showcasing Savage’s technical know-how in ratcheting up the tension and dread. The same also goes for the scene in the office, where the therapist (LisaGay Hamilton) suggests that Sadie and Sawyer face their fear by looking at the red light on the table that flashes occasionally.
‘The Boogeyman’ may involve a supernatural entity. A monster, to be exact, but Savage is smart enough not to show it in its entirety because he understands the less-is-more approach is scarier. Instead, the titular monster is always lurking somewhere in the dark or in the shadows, making us (the audiences) wonder when or where it will attack the human character(s). The only setback about Savage’s otherwise ingenious move of depicting the monster is the eventual full creature reveal that somehow dilutes the dread-inducing chills of its presence.
The movie’s theme of grief and loss may have been commonplace in the horror genre, but Savage and his trio of screenwriters manage to come up with an emotionally resonant story, thanks to the above-average performances from the young stars, Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair. Thatcher, best known for TV’s ‘Yellowjackets,’ delivers an engaging lead turn as the headstrong but vulnerable Sadie Harper.
Vivien Lyra Blair, who plays the little Leia Organa in last year’s ‘Obi-Wan Kenobi’ series, continues to prove her acting prowess as a bright young talent to look out for. Both Thatcher and Blair share great chemistry as the two sisters care for each other. Chris Messina, who made such a lasting impression stealing the show as the acid-tongued agent David Falk in Ben Affleck’s ‘Air’, does a 180-degree turn in playing the role of a widowed father who suppresses his emotions by keeping himself busy with work as a therapist and daily routines.
Although David Dastmalchian plays a small role in ‘The Boogeyman,’ he made the best use of his limited screen time in one of the movie’s best scenes. His enigmatic presence, coupled with the way he tells his story to Messina’s Will during the therapy session, induces a gradual sense of uneasiness.
Do look out for a blink-and-you-miss-it scene featuring a character from ‘Host’ that Savage subtly slipped in ‘The Boogeyman.’