I’ve taken a while to get down with Chris Messina; not since Shelley Long played Diane Chambers in Cheers has a performer been thrown such an impossible sitcom arc as he had to navigate in The Mindy Project, and that kind of SNAFU is usually enough to put any career in traction. But he’s back on streaming next week opposite Kaley Cuoco in Peacock’s serial-killer series Based On A True Story, and is probably overqualified for his humble dad role in The Boogeyman, a straight-up no frills horror story adapted from a very early (ie 1973) Stephen King short story.
Messina plays Will Harper, a recently widowed psychiatrist who has two young children to protect, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) and her older teenage sister Sadie (Sophie Thatcher); it’s not surprising in the circumstances that the kids are wary of exactly what might spring from the closet. But when a disturbed man called Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) appears on his doorstep, Will decides to take him in and listen to his cautionary tale, and that provides the jumping off point for some familiar tropes; creepy kids drawings of a Lovecraftian creature for a start. And is Sadie getting bullied at school? Relationships between parent and child are tested as the Boogeyman starts to emerge from the shadows to feed on familiar familial unhappiness.
The Boogeyman’s obvious weakness is that we’ve been here before, so there’s not too much to report in the way of surprises, but the traditionally young audience for horror should make such considerations irrelevant. Rob (Host) Savage‘s film manages to string out a story that’s more inspired by King than a literal adaptation, but the innovations generally land. The final reveal of the monster is very much like the giant spider creature that Pennywise uses in It, and those seeking a craftsman-like approach to horror should feel rewarded by the result, even if the bullying subplot carries more emotional weight than the flimsy central narrative.
The Boogeyman was originally set for streaming only, but King felt it could work in cinemas, and he’s right as usual. With a more serious tone than usual, The Boogeyman manages to avoid explaining itself on anything other than a primal level; there are bad things waiting in the dark, and that’s all we need to know. King has undisputedly been the go-to horror author for cinematic adaptation since the mid 70’s and his influence has inspired hundreds of films; The Boogeyman should satisfy his many fans by taking things back to the source for a well-mounted slice of small-scale, intense horror.
Thanks to Disney for big-screen access to The Boogeyman. Out June 2 in US and UK.