In general, horror fans frequently turn their noses up at the dreaded PG-13 rating. The occasional exception can be made for such commonly celebrated hits as M3GAN, INSIDIOUS, or A QUIET PLACE. Still, as a general rule of thumb, if a movie isn’t bestowed a hard, brutal R rating, the unfortunate masses often disregard it.

This should not be the case with the genre’s latest addition, THE BOOGEYMAN. Written by Scott Beck, Bryan Woods, Mark Heyman (A QUIET PLACE), directed by Rob Savage (2020’s cleverly terrifying 40-minute Covid-era found-Zoom-footage flick, HOST), and based on the short story by Stephen King, the film accomplishes a creep factor seldom seen in modern cinema, taking its time to establish surprising bits of suspense and dread throughout.

The setup is refreshingly simple: a family in mourning is terrorized by a cruel, vicious force of evil. Maintaining such a straightforward plot allows for some decent character building and leaves room for flexibility within the ways this shadow-lurking beast sneaks up on its victims.

Leading our cast is Sophie Thatcher (YELLOWJACKETS) as Sadie, the eldest daughter of the Harper family and sister to Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, the precocious young Princes Leia of Disney+’s OBI-WAN KENOBI). The construct of their sisterhood is convincingly laid out within moments of meeting them and allows for growth as terror builds up around them. As their father, Will, Chris Messina (ARGO, DEVIL) plays distracted and grief-stricken to a T, though, as a character, he could stand a touch more development.

The scares in THE BOOGEYMAN play cleverly to what spooks us all. A low-to-the-ground scuttle across the floor, hearing voices in the darkness, and utilizing a closet, dark basement, and under-the-bed spaces make for familiar yet horrifying scare devices. The film also finds unexpected places to plant set pieces; one can only imagine the fun meeting the writers must have had listing everywhere in a house a Boogeyman might linger in the darkness.

While the creature itself is composed of CGI, it works. There are moments when a practical effect stickler like myself might have preferred animatronics. Still, for what the film is going for, it creates a memorable and spine-tingling nightmarish beast.

The film is fun, spooky, and accomplished a surprising feat: it scared me, a seasoned horror pro always looking for something to keep me up at night. It’s sure to draw comparisons to last year’s runaway hit, SMILE, in its tone, but frankly, THE BOOGEYMAN sticks a better landing in its themes and metaphor. Films in this cannon seem to be the trickle-down effect of the recent slough of high-brow, 2-and-a-half-hour-long theses on grief and trauma (which I LOVE). If HEREDITARY or THE BABADOOK was too heady for you, THE BOOGEYMAN will surely haunt moviegoers’ nightmares without asking too much of them.

THE BOOGEYMAN is now playing in theaters.

Ricky J Duarte

[He/him/his] Ricky is a writer, actor, and singer. He's also the host of Rick or Treat Horrorcast, a biweekly horror movie podcast. He lives in a super haunted apartment in New York City above a giant, spooky cemetery with his evil cat, Renfield, and the ghosts of reasons he moved to New York in the first place. www.RickOrTreat.com

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