Dir. Rob Savage (2023)
A family struggling with the death of their mother must band together to fight off an evil presence in their house.
The mom died suddenly when I was 18 years old. I had lived a pretty charmed life up until then: upper middle class family (ish), parents who loved each other (and me), a good education and a future with limitless potential. And then my mom died. I struggled with the grief for a long time, turning my fresh college experience into one filled with alcohol, angry music, and regrets. I was a damaged person, and despite the fact that I consider myself generally pretty strong emotionally, I was a wreck for quite a long time. To make matters worse, my dad, who had been with my mom since he was the age I was when she died, was devastated. He stopped being a father for a while, struggling greatly with his own mental health in a way that made him practically unavailable for a decent portion of time during my early college years. He tried, of course, and I generally believe that he did the best that he could, but there was still that void there that would take years to completely heal and correct itself, largely because he simply would not talk about the person we had lost and how it made us feel.
It took a long time for that part of our relationship to heal. For more than a decade, my father and I had not one single conversation about my mom, nothing more than a brief "your mom would have been proud" at best, and a choked up half-remembrance more often than not. Once we finally got to the point where we could talk about her, and remember her for the better times, our relationship became completely different. We developed an adult respect for each other, a relationship that finally was able to transcend the boundaries of an adult father and his child. We healed from the emotional devastation that had wrecked our family, and we were able to repair, if not heal, ourselves. It took far longer than it should, of course, but there is some value in the lessons learned even during the worst of times.
Rob Savage's new film The Boogeyman focuses on a family that is going through the same thing that mine went through. When their mother dies, Sadie (Sophie Thatcher) and Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) find themselves under attack by a vicious and cruel creature that is able to mimic voices that it hears and can only attack in the dark. Their psychologist father Will (Chris Messina) is emotionally detached, unable to talk to his daughters about their mother and unwilling to believe them when they tell him what is happening inside their once happy home, even after one of his patients kills himself in their home after telling the same story. The creature becomes more and more violent, assaulting the girls as they try desperately to endure while also dealing with the trauma and grief from the loss of their mother, and they must work together to process both in order to survive.
To be honest, I wasn't expecting a whole lot from this film. It looked like a fairly prototypical modern horror, a dark "monster movie" that was no scarier or more effective than any other. What I got instead was a heartbreaking and phenomenal exploration of grief and a legitimately terrifying film that might very well vault to the top of my favorites of the year.
The creature itself is grim and truly scary, a wraith-like beast that is a mixture between the monsters in The Descent and the Demogorgon from Stranger Things. The sound design that accompanies it, reminiscent of the scariest bear ever from Annihilation, is chilling, its mimicry of loved ones terrifying and cruel. The concept of a monster that echoes from your past, symbolizing the reverberation of grief into every facet of your life, is fascinating. It's this ability that perhaps most reflects the true nature of grief. Even today, twenty years after my mother's death, there will be random things that make me think of her. A song lyric, maybe one that sounds like something that she said. A jingle of keys that take me back to that specific tinkling that I heard coming down the hall as she arrived to pick me up from daycare. These little snippets that take me back to a time when she was still alive, instead used as a lure to draw a child into the gaping maw of a monster, is ineffably hateful, and it was a fantastic touch to make this monster even scarier than it otherwise would have been.
There wasn't a piece of this film that didn't work for me. The acting was top notch, with both Thatcher and Blair delivering stellar performances that felt like the perfect portrayal of grief. The effects, digital as they were, were fantastic, presenting a creature that was both terrifying and ethereal. The darkness in the film made sense, but there were very few moments when you couldn't see what was going on, and even those were intended to keep the audience (literally) in the dark. The ending, a metaphor for being forced to let go of the past in order to overcome the mental anguish that comes from losing a loved one, was perfectly conveyed, leaving my eyes watering more than once during the final act.
It's difficult for me to separate my own experiences from this film, and perhaps my understanding and critique is not as unbiased as it might otherwise be. I don't believe you need to be the damaged child of a dead parent to appreciate it, but I fully acknowledge that it makes your experience with the film even more profound. It's a good horror movie regardless, and for my money it blows The Babadook out of the water as a portrayal of bereavement and the dangers of holding everything inside of you when there are people who could help. After all, there is something to be said about these joint experiences. You are going through it together whether you talk about it or not. The lesson of this film, as someone who has been on the other side, is that the people who surround you with love can be your greatest asset in defeating the demons that your loved one has left behind. All you have to do is open the door.
Who this movie is for: Modern horror fans, Emotional horror lovers, My mom
Bottom line: A truly devastating horror film with a ton of scary moments, The Boogeyman hit me hard. It may not have the same effect on everyone who gives it a go, but it's certainly a fantastically crafted film regardless. The acting is on point, the sound design is nothing short of phenomenal, and there's not one part of this film that is anything less than well done. It's streaming on Hulu, and it's a great film to check out as part of your spooky season lineup.