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‘The Boogeyman’: You’ve seen what’s hidden under this bed before

That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t stream this Stephen King short story adaptation at 2 a.m. with a few friends

David Dastmalchian in "The Boogeyman." MUST CREDIT: Photo by Patti Perret/20th Century StudiosPatti Perret/20th Century Studios

The plot of “The Boogeyman” veers far away from its source material, a Stephen King short story that appeared in his 1978 collection “Night Shift.” However, it does keep the tale’s general conceit that a murderous entity is hunting children from the shadows. Screenwriters Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, and Mark Heyman make the protagonist of King’s story, Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian), the catalyst for their version, but the similarities end there.

The first act sets us up for a craftier horror movie than we eventually get. Lester suddenly appears at the house of recently widowed Will Harper (Chris Messina), a therapist with a home office. Since he has a free hour, Harper lets him in for a much-needed counseling session. They discuss the deaths of Lester’s three children, all of which appear to be from explainable causes.


But Lester is adamant that there was something abnormal about the circumstances; he believes the Boogeyman killed his kids. When Harper asks for clarification, Billings attributes his tragedies to “that thing that comes for your kids when you aren’t looking.”

Sensing danger, Harper excuses himself to call 911. Meanwhile, Lester mysteriously disappears, only to be found by Harper’s daughters Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and her younger sister, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) hanged in a closet. Already traumatized by the death of their mother in a car accident, the discovery adds a layer of psychological unease that Thatcher and Blair use to add dimension to their thinly sketched characters.

Soon after, all manner of weird and creepy events plague the Harper household whenever the lights go out. Sawyer is the first to notice, because the imagination of a kid is always in tune with things that go bump in the night. “The Boogeyman” wisely avoids the usual trope where no one believes the child in peril; Sadie’s initial disbelief is trashed when she witnesses her sister being brutalized by an unseen force.


From here, “The Boogeyman” becomes an exercise in diminishing returns, though it is not without its pleasures. The acting is good, especially by Marin Ireland in a small, memorable role as a tormented character whose identity I’ll not spoil. Plus, director Rob Savage cleverly stages a few effective jump scares by adding unusual elements to familiar scenes.

The best example of the director’s creativity occurs when Sawyer uses the brightly lit globe-shaped night light she keeps in her bed to illuminate her room. Using it as a bowling ball, she rolls the globe into corners and under her bed as we eagerly await whatever it will show us. Horror fans live for moments like these, opportunities for us to be goosed by something we already know is coming.

Where “The Boogeyman” loses much of its effect is in its definition of its monster. (I don’t mean its design, which is rather nifty.) The film hints that its manifestation may have something to do with Will’s late wife, opening up an intriguing meditation on how grief consumes those who have lost someone, paralyzing them whenever they’re alone in the dark with their thoughts. This idea is represented by Will’s inability to help his children cope even though that’s technically his profession. It’s also hinted at in the interactions between Sadie and her mean classmates.

But then the film gives us another interpretation that, while allowing for some inventive booby trap scenes, feels like the easy way out. I’m always disappointed when a film teases me with a potentially deep exploration of human feelings and failings through supernatural occurrences, then abandons those ideas in favor of quick, empty thrills.


“The Boogeyman” was originally scheduled for a streaming-only premiere on Hulu, but it earned a theatrical release based on positive word-of-mouth from early screenings. While not a bad film — any movie that follows a fiery climax with a needle drop of Elvis’s “Burning Love” deserves points for being so delightfully shameless — it’s just one of those movies you’d put on when a few friends come over to your house and the booze starts flowing. It’s the perfect “stream this at 2 a.m.” movie.



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, Vivien Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, David Dastmalchian. 98 minutes. At AMC Boston Common and suburbs. PG-13 (violence, kids in peril)

Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.