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Sophie Thatcher, left, as Sadie Harper and Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer Harper.Patti Perret/20th Century Studios

  • The Boogeyman
  • Directed by Rob Savage
  • Written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman, based on the short story by Stephen King
  • Starring Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina and David Dastmalchian
  • Classification N/A; 99 minutes
  • Opens in theatres June 2

Considering how prolific the author is, it is a shame that only a handful of filmmakers have ever made a truly great Stephen King movie. And the ones who have managed to translate the novelist’s talent for terror onto the screen – Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Brian De Palma’s Carrie, David Cronenberg’s The Dead Zone – have done so by straying just far enough from the source material to create their own unique visions, sometimes infuriating the author in the process. (King was so dissatisfied with Kubrick’s work, for instance, that he eventually wrote his own Shining miniseries, which aired on ABC in 1997; all but the most die-hard of Steven Webber fans are right to question why they have never heard of it.)

As a longtime fan – or at least someone who spent a large portion of his high-school career trying in vain to keep up to date with the author’s output – I’d love to report that director Rob Savage has cracked the King code with his new film, The Boogeyman. But unfortunately this adaptation is more misery, the noun, instead of Misery, the novel (or even Misery, the Rob Reiner movie).

If you don’t recall The Boogeyman standing out in the King canon, don’t fret – I’m not sure the author remembers it, either, given that the short story was first published back in 1973, eventually collected in 1978′s Night Shift. The original story is medium-cool chilling, with not that much narrative to hang a film on. Which explains why Savage’s version – which required three screenwriters to bring to undead life – is a rather loose adaptation, expanding a creepy world that might have been best left untouched.

After the car-crash death of his wife, therapist Will (Chris Messina) is left to fight through his grief with the help of his two daughters, the jaded teen Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and sweet grade-schooler Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair). But just as the family is processing their collective trauma, along comes a mystery man named Lester (David Dastmalchian) who corners Will into an impromptu therapy session. There, Lester relates the horrible tale of how he lost his own family, and just who (or what) might be behind the tragedy.

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The Boogeyman isn’t a failure, necessarily.20th Century Studios/20th Century Studios

Soon, Will’s own household becomes hostage to the malevolent force that ruined Lester’s life, a nasty little bugger that seems to feed on vulnerability. Can Sophie convince her father that their home has become ground zero for supernatural forces? Can Will learn to forgive himself for his wife’s death, and start paying attention to his daughters’ needs? Can Sawyer stop shrieking for a gosh-dang second? I’ll let you guess the answers, because Savage’s ho-hum horror doesn’t offer many surprises as to its inevitabilities.

The Boogeyman isn’t a failure, necessarily. Like its title, perfectly upfront about its content and ambitions. There are jump-scares aplenty, and a great deal of barely visible shots of its monster, culminating in a full-on creature reveal that’s nicely gross. The characters are sketched out just enough to make you care whether they live or die, with solid performances from all involved, including a rare star turn from Messina. And the whole thing wraps up in a tidy 99 minutes.

But there is just not much else here to get the film beyond basic meat-and-potatoes scare tactics – certainly nothing as interesting or provocative as contained in Savage’s previous two films, the 2000 Zoom-séance flick Host and the 2021 alt-right thriller Dashcam. Those films used the language and tropes of horror cinema to deliver something you could sink your teeth into, or spit right back out (as in the case of Dashcam’s impressively repellent lead character, a conspiracy-spewing nut who finds herself fending off ghouls).

Ultimately, the scariest thing about The Boogeyman is that its mere existence implies that producers are hard at work trawling the depths of King’s archives for even more obscure, even flimsier material to adapt. The horror, the horror.

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