By: Amanda Guarragi
There have been many Stephen King adaptations over the years; some have been better than others. The Boogeyman is unique because it is a short story in King’s anthology series Night Shift. Co-writers Scott Beck, Bryan Woods and Mark Heyman adapted a 10-page story into a feature film, which turned out well. The lore of the boogeyman has been around for decades, and King added depth to what the creature did. The boogeyman is meant to prey on children, but it does prey on weakness in this adaptation. After Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian) walks into Will Harper’s (Chris Messina) office to seek therapy, the creature that killed his children and terrorized his family passes through to Harper’s home. The boogeyman needed to feed on a new host.
Life has been hard for Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) Harper. They recently lost their mother in a car accident, and their father hasn’t opened up to them. Adding this backstory for the girls brought another layer to The Boogeyman, which wasn’t there in King’s story. King always incorporates grief through the creatures he creates lurking in the shadows to symbolize the trauma manifesting in the psyche. Here, the boogeyman is the embodiment of fear through loss and abandonment. Sadie goes through this alone, as her father shuts down (abandonment) while grieving the loss of her mother. The boogeyman does prey on little Sawyer physically because it’s always more terrifying to experience the scares through the eyes of a child. But, Sadie experiences the boogeyman mentally, which adds more to the nightmare.
This is one of the better King adaptations because it leans on psychological horror more than the jump scares. Director Rob Savage built the anticipation by framing the closets in a sinister way and focused on the darkness a lot. The sound design and score draw you into the atmosphere and aid the visuals during suspenseful moments. There is a strong use of lighting and shadows that has the viewer anticipate the next move of the boogeyman through the eyes of Sadie and Sawyer. The shift in perspective from a child to an adult is important here because of how strongly you believe in the boogeyman. The more Sadie finds out about the lore, the boogeyman gets violent with Sawyer. And he then extends his torment to Sadie. The cinematography by Eli Born is a standout here because he played around with the darkness to make the creature design of the boogeyman more defined.
The Boogeyman is a fun viewing experience because of the style Savage and Born brought with their visuals. Visual storytelling is just as important as the psychological narrative in a King adaptation because of the parallels with the creature and what it symbolizes. Messina, Thatcher, and Lyra Blair gave strong performances because all three Harpers experienced the boogeyman at different stages. And as their grief progressed, so did the boogeyman’s attachment to their weakness. The idea of something lurking in the closet can be scary to many, especially when darkness feels like an endless void. Those moments were suspenseful, and Savage did a great job subverting the obvious scare. When Sadie was at her lowest, she lost herself in trying to contact her mother on the other side and became the most vulnerable. It wasn’t until she passed over the wave of sadness that she could control the situation for her family.