Lester should’ve made an appointment.
Will Harper told the guy as much as soon as he walked into his home office. The therapist is a busy man. Very busy. Why, the fact that Lester stumbled in when Will had an hour to kill was just dumb luck. Plus, there’s only so much a therapist can do when he doesn’t know the patient.
And let’s be honest: Will’s got his own issues. His wife was killed in a car crash not so long ago. His two daughters, understandably, are still dealing with the trauma. And yeah, he is, too. He tries not to show it. But it’s been a hard slog.
But one look at Lester tells Will that his unexpected guest—what with his darting eyes and sallow face—has had his share of troubles, too. So Will invites him to take a seat, clicks on an audio recorder and encourages the guy to start talking.
And Lester starts talking … about how something killed his children. “One at a time,” he says. “Killed them all.”
What was it? Lester has no idea. But one of his children tried to draw a picture of it before … well, you know. Lester shows it to Will. And Will quickly makes an excuse to leave the room.
A monster? Something that hides in the dark? Something that secrets in your closet or lurks under your bed? Pish. To be sure, Will believes that Lester’s family fell victim to a monster—but that monster’s sitting in his home office. He makes a quick call to the police.
He doesn’t hear his teen daughter, Sadie, come home. He doesn’t notice that Lester is wandering around his house.
But he does hear Sadie scream.
He runs through the house, toward his daughter. He discovers her in his wife’s old home studio, the room still strewn with half-finished paintings. And on the door hangs … Lester. He hung himself, somehow, in the doorway.
Sadie swears she heard a scuffle. Voices.
Lester didn’t sound like he was alone.
Horror movies these days are rarely just about ghosts or serial killers. Monsters serve as stand-ins for deeper real-world issues. And in The Boogeyman, the other monster is grief.
We hear that the monster is attracted to families dealing with unimaginable loss: The first of Lester’s children died from sudden infant death syndrome, which left the rest of the family open to attack. Will’s family is vulnerable because of their own grief. And surely it’s no spoiler warning to say that, yeah, the monster will start hunting the Harpers, too.
The darkness that the titular Boogeyman hides in can be the darkness of loss. But the film suggests that we can sometimes unintentionally keep our own loved ones in the dark when we’re dealing with trauma and despair: Will’s efforts to keep his own feelings and fears bottled up leave his kids, at least metaphorically, in the dark.
But in spite of those issues, the Harper family is still a pretty strong one. Will wants to protect and reassure his daughters, and that’s not a bad thing. Sawyer, the youngest daughter, is perhaps the kid most endangered; but she shows a surprising level of bravery when she needs to.
Teen Sadie, though, serves as the Boogeyman’s primary adversary and her family’s prime protector. She risks a great deal to keep both her dad and her little sis safe.
When Lester walks into Will’s office, he tells the therapist that he had nowhere else to turn. “I can’t talk to a priest because I’m not Catholic,” he says.
It doesn’t seem that the Harpers are particularly religious, either. But lately, Sadie’s been trying to connect with her dead mother anyway. She watches YouTube videos featuring spiritualists who can supposedly commune with the dead. The spiritualists say that you can tell if a lost loved one is present by lighting a candle or whatnot, and asking the spirit to bend the flame. Sadie tries to use this trick a couple of times. The first time, nothing seems to happen before she’s interrupted. The second, something clearly happens, suggesting that not only is the spirit of Sadie’s mom around, but fiercely engaged.
We should note that while the Boogeyman is apparently attracted to grief, the monster is very much “real” here—a supernatural creature that comes from places unknown. (The walls and ceilings that the Boogeyman haunts develop webbed veins of darkness, reminiscent of Stranger Things; perhaps it’s not a coincidence that the film’s primary producer, Sean Levy, is also behind Netflix’s seminal series.) There’s a suggestion that the creature can somehow inhabit people; one character has a bunch of murky muck pour into her mouth.
There’s some talk about going to heaven and prayer.
Other than one crude sexual allusion noted in Drug and Alcohol Content below, none.
The movie opens with a deeply disturbing attack on a child. A monster creeps into a room where a terrified girl screams from a crib. We see a hand grab the top of the crib and the camera turns away to look at some family photos on the dresser. The screaming stops and some drops of blood spray on the pictures.
People are pulled down, yanked into dark places, thrown around and knocked backward by sharply opening doors. One girl is chucked into a large TV (and taken to the hospital shortly afterward). Someone else is dropped and breaks a leg. Off-camera, a couple of people are attacked and killed. (We see the body of one of them hang from a door.)
One character sets a complicated trap for the monster with scads of small explosives. The creature is attacked with fire and shot with a shotgun. We hear how Lester’s children violently died. But the creature also seems to supernaturally draw the life force out of people, too—and we see that attribute in action.
Sadie tries to help Sawyer pull a tooth by tying it to a doorknob. The door closes quite suddenly, alarming Sawyer mightily. We hear the girls’ mother died in a car crash, and Will spends some time in the hospital room where they took her. Several characters bear some cuts and bruises (often bandaged). Someone is startled by a seemingly reckless gunshot. One teen slaps another. Sawyer plays a violent video game.
One f-word and about 10 s-words. We also hear “b–ch,” “h—” and four misuses of God’s name, once with the word “d–n.”
Sadie finds an old stash of marijuana among her deceased mother’s things. When some friends come over and ask if they have anything alcoholic to drink in the house, Sadie says no, but then adds that she does have some “actual drugs.” They light a joint and Sadie takes a puff. She begins to cough uncontrollably, and one of the girls uses a sexually crude term to confess that it’s her first time.
Later, when something happens in the evening, Sadie tells her father. But he doubts Sadie’s story, asking her if she was “high.” (He could smell the marijuana on her.)
A marijuana-induced coughing fit ends with Sadie vomiting in the bathroom. What’s expelled is mighty suspicious.
Sawyer wets her pants in a moment of terror. Teens are not very nice to Sadie. We hear some talk about using the bathroom. Sadie tells Sawyer not to eat any cheese; if she does, “you’ll be farting all night.”
The Boogeyman is loosely based on Stephen King’s 1973 short story of the same name. But it takes some liberties—and, more than likely, loses some coherency.
Oh, it’s still got plenty of scares. Imperiled children peeking under their beds looking for monsters that actually are there will certainly cause many to shut their eyes or hide behind the seat in front of them.
But the monster doesn’t seem to have a firm plan in mind. And the kids seem to be both absolutely terrified and absolutely determined to keep it that way. No turning on lights. No calling for help. No, 8-year-old Sawyer seems to take an almost monkish view of the terror around her as she walks through the home’s halls—taking a secret vow of silence and darkness. If I was 8 years old and something was stalking me in the dark, you can be sure that everyone in the house (and perhaps a few houses down) would know about it.
It’s only fair that the much-older-than-8-year-old-me cautions you against The Boogeyman.
This PG-13 horror flick is not particularly gory, but it might be particularly disturbing. The opening-act death of a child kicks things off and tells us that this story—and this monster—ain’t messing around. The language presses up to the PG-13 threshold, and some drug use filters into the story. Murky spirituality weasels its way in as well. And while there are some nice messages about family and grief tied to the terror here, The Boogeyman isn’t out to teach or inspire; it’s out to scare.
The Boogeyman, the monster, thrives in the dark. So perhaps it’s only logical that the movie camps in a different sort of darkness, too.
Paul Asay has been part of the Plugged In staff since 2007, watching and reviewing roughly 15 quintillion movies and television shows. He’s written for a number of other publications, too, including Time, The Washington Post and Christianity Today. The author of several books, Paul loves to find spirituality in unexpected places, including popular entertainment, and he loves all things superhero. His vices include James Bond films, Mountain Dew and terrible B-grade movies. He’s married, has two children and a neurotic dog, runs marathons on occasion and hopes to someday own his own tuxedo. Feel free to follow him on Twitter @AsayPaul.