Directed by: Stephen Kay
Starring: Barry Watson, Emily Deschanel, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Lucy Lawless, Tory Mussett
Horror fans take note (the rest of you can sit this one out): Boogeyman is much better than you probably think it is, and certainly better than I thought it would be.
Yes, in plot terms, the movie's similar to the egregious Darkness Falls; but that's like saying The Ring is similar to FearDotCom. And no, Boogeyman is nowhere near the quality of The Ring, but it's still a nifty little shocker and the first truly enjoyable horror film I've seen in a considerable time. When compared to recent movies like Alone in the Dark, Hide and Seek, White Noise and The Grudge, this film is freakin' Gone With the Wind.
Nonetheless, Boogeyman is neither a great film nor a great horror movie. It has problems, serious problems -- mostly of the logical kind. For instance, the whole boogey business described in the film is supposed to have commenced 15 years ago, yet one of its victims fell prey back in 1985. Now, my math is rudimentary, at best, but even I see a flaw there. (And then there's the little matter of just how the film's hero is going to explain at least two Boogeyman incidents that are going to look pretty bad when the authorities start asking pesky questions.)
However, if one can overlook these, uh, lapses, this is definitely an above-average genre offering. As noted, the set-up is more than similar to Darkness Falls: Youngster witnesses the death of a parent at the hands of a supernatural entity, spends years in psychiatric treatment, ends up having to face up to his paranormal nemesis. The big difference lies in the fact that the Tooth Fairy in Darkness Falls is pretty darned silly, while the Boogeyman in Boogeyman is pretty darned creepy -- not in the least because we see so very little of him.
Similarly, where the Tooth Fairy experience produced a fear of the dark (leading its hero to take up residence in Las Vegas and stock up on Duracells in case the lights fail), the Boogeyman produces a fear of closets and the space under the bed. And here, the fear somehow seems less forced.
It doesn't hurt that the eventual explanation of the Boogeyman is at least intriguing, if not entirely persuasive (somewhat in the manner of the "monster" in Ken Russell's Gothic).
Boogeyman is a fright flick in the sense that it has two principal aims: to be unsettling and to make the viewer jump. The latter endeavor is easy (though it's accomplished here with a degree of artistry), the former not so much so. But the film pulls it off most of the time, especially in the scenes in Tim's (Barry Watson, TV's 7th Heaven) conveniently creepy old house, and when he and the strange little girl, Franny (Skye McCole Bartusiak, Against the Ropes), visit the house of a man Tim used to know who was obsessed with facing down the Boogeyman after the monster took his daughter. When the film brings these two elements together, it's really quite accomplished.
Sure, the story deals from a stacked deck. From the very beginning, Tim's old house is just a little too gloomy to believe, and it's difficult to accept that Tim's childhood psychiatrist (Robyn Malcolm, The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers) would tell him, "Go spend one night in that house. It will help." (But then, this is the same doctor who apparently let Tim wander off from a mental home to spend time with the old boy who wanted to have it out with the Boogeyman, so maybe it's possible.) In addition, since Tim's uncle (Philip Gordon) has been working on the house, one can only wonder what condition it must have been in when he started.
But these are not the sort of questions that necessarily sink a horror film, and they don't significantly harm this one, unless you examine them too closely afterwards. Thankfully, this is just not the sort of movie that requires that kind of examination.
The major pity is that there are several intimations that the film might have been heading to a more cerebral level than it did; whether this was done by accident or design is open to question. The most notable example of this lies in the never fully explored reason behind the sudden re-emergence of Boogeyman activity, but it's interesting that this dovetails with Tim going to meet his new fiancee Jessica's (Tory Mussett, Peter Pan) folks. It's this event that causes him to get "weird" on her again. Combine this with references to the Boogeyman being "out of the closet," and the potential for a rich subtext creeps in around the edges.
While it's never fully explored, this subtext is hinted at again in the scenes of Tim and Jessica in a motel, where she wants to put all the strangeness aside and "just have fun" -- but he seems very unenthused by the prospect. In fact, the film plays with this idea when some seemingly unpleasant fate befalls Jessica, but it's never really developed and is finally just dropped. At the same time, its very presence at all affords Boogeyman a resonance the film otherwise wouldn't have.
The film also boasts a certain flair in drawing on the legacy of more or less modern horror, with the motel scenes deliberately evoking Hitchcock's Psycho and the bathtub scene from Wes Craven's A Nightmare on Elm Street.
And it's certainly worth noting that Zooey Deschanel's big sister, Emily, and Barry Watson make a nicely believable screen -- or should I say scream? -- team. In fact, Deschanel's presence in the latter part of the movie is a large part of what makes the film work as well as it does.
Boogeyman may not be great, but it is a slickly enjoyable 86 minutes with a hint of just a little bit more. Plus, it's a blessed relief to see what must be the first horror film in 30 years or more that dares eschew the downbeat or cheap-jolt ending. In this day and age, that's almost radical. Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of horror and terror/violence, and some partial nudity.
-- reviewed by Ken Hanke