Movie Review ~ The Boogeyman (2023)

The Facts:

Synopsis: When a desperate patient unexpectedly shows up at the home of a widowed therapist and his two daughters seeking help, he leaves behind a terrifying supernatural entity that preys on families and feeds on the suffering of its victims.
Stars: Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, Vivian Lyra Blair, Marin Ireland, Madison Hu, LisaGay Hamilton, David Dastmalchian
Director: Rob Savage
Rated: PG-13
Running Length: 98 minutes
TMMM Score: (1/10)
Review: Originally published in 1973 as a short story in an innocuous magazine, Stephen King’s ‘The Boogeyman’ is more prominently known to readers as a selection in King’s 1978 short story collection, ‘Night Shift’. That first amassing of King’s tiny terrors holds some mighty famous doozies which would go on to inspire film adaptations that ranged from the spooky (‘Jerusalem’s Lot’ became the 1978 TV movie Salem’s Lot, a remake is finished and waiting on a release date) to the silly (King himself would adapt ‘Trucks’ into infamous turkey Maximum Overdrive in 1986) to the freaky (1984’s Children of the Corn) to the icky (1990’s Graveyard Shift…those rats!). A solid story produced the one genuinely good movie; strangely, it is often the least mentioned, 1991’s Sometimes They Come Back

It would have been great to report that The Boogeyman is as scary as the preview makes it out to be, a balm for King fans that have suffered countless inequities with lame adaptations of the author’s work. I was encouraged by early reports that test screenings had gone so well that 20th Century Studios and Hulu scrapped plans for a direct-to-streaming debut and opted for an exclusive theatrical release. Sadly, with its patchwork script and frequent lapses in common sense, The Boogeyman leaves audiences aimlessly wandering in the darkness as much as it does its characters. Meeting its quota for jump scares and only just, it’s a cash-gobbling theater filler for a studio and filmmakers that can do much better.

In fairness, calling King’s original story flimsy is putting it mildly. Written during a time when King favored ugly words spat out by backward people, it’s the kind of tale you read now and wonder when the author will get to the inevitable point. How it took three respectable screenwriters, Scott Beck (A Quiet Place), Bryan Woods (Haunt), and Mark Heyman (The Skeleton Twins), to come up with such a pithy story to wrap around King’s initial treatment is mystifying. There’s so little happening (or explained) in the final project that it’s…frightening.

The Harper family has suffered a terrible loss and is struggling to put the pieces of their life back together. Dad Will (Chris Messina, I Care a Lot) is a therapist seeing patients out of his home, doing work for them that he ignores for himself. Teenager Sadie (Sophie Thatcher, Yellowjackets) is finally ready to return to school and face her (incredibly b***hy) classmates, another hurdle in a long healing journey. At the same time, her younger sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair) prefers to sleep with an array of lights on in her bedroom. Little hints are sprinkled initially, but it honestly takes a solid twenty minutes for the script to reveal their mother was killed in an accident (I’m guessing car, but the way Messina drives with his back facing oncoming traffic, he’s clearly not attentive to the rules of the road) and even then, the mother barely functions as a character. However, she factors heavily into the emotional beats of the plot.

As if this grief wasn’t enough, in walks Lester Billings (David Dastmalchian, The Suicide Squad) to see Will for an emergency session. (This entire sequence makes up the source short story.)  During their time, Lester tells Will of an evil that infiltrated his family, with a horrible fate that took his children. Disturbed by Lester’s behavior, Will leaves to “use the bathroom” (code for call the cops) and, in doing so, lets the man wander freely around the house. Will doesn’t know that Sophie has returned early from school after a disastrous first day and will face Lester, setting off a wicked chain of events that unleashes a similar lurking danger in the Harper house. At first targeting Sawyer before turning its attention to Sophie, the sisters must work together to beat back a creature that feeds on grief too raw to shake entirely.

I’m not dismissing that there’s a nugget of good story here. Evil that feeds on unbridled emotion (especially in children who often cannot control it) is a frequent theme in King’s work. With a more sophisticated production, The Boogeyman could have been something special. In the hands of its adaptors, it’s a confusing blob of scenes that don’t align with what came before. It’s as if each of the three writers took an assigned number of sequences and just mashed them all in a lump without cross-checking with one another what’s happening. That’s why you’ll have three people in one house being attacked by a creature, but no one hearing their family member is in trouble or coming to their aid. Multiple times throughout the film, Sophie or Sawyer screams a high-pitched wail, and Will is nowhere to be found. Where has Will vanished to? Often the scariest thing in the film is realizing the girls are left alone so often during an increasingly violent period. It’s obvious there’s been late-stage editing done to tone down parts of the movie to get it to its assigned PG-13 rating. So not only is it rarely scary, but there’s also little bang for your buck in the way of a typical horror payoff.

Director Rob Savage was responsible for one of the best pandemic projects, the terrifying Zoom marvel Host (as well as the creepy 2021 Dashcam), so it’s surprising his name is on such nonsense. His talent for well-timed jump scares and its jittery aftershock is evident, but it’s the time between those ingenious moments when the film is just the absolute pits. It doesn’t help matters the actors look as confused as the script…when we can see them, of course. For a movie about a creature that hunts in the darkness, it becomes enormously funny that characters who know the rules will willingly walk by light switches and lamps without flipping them on or, at the very least, using their cell phone. 

Ending with an Elvis Presley music cue that is the most foolishly on-the-nose needle drop I’ve ever heard is simply the sour cherry on top of this sloppy sundae of a film. The Boogeyman is one of the worst Stephen King adaptations audiences have been treated to, a mostly scare-less drag that’s been smartly marketed as a terror-filled nailbiter. Save your money and gnaw your nails at one of the classic King novels that have received the big screen treatment.

MSPIFF Reviews ~ Dancing Queen / The Beasts / I Like Movies / Birth/Rebirth

Dancing Queen

Director: Aurora Gossé
Cast: Liv Elvira Kippersund Larsson, Sturla Harbitz, Anne Marit Jacobsen, Andrea Bræin Hovig, Anders Baasmo, Cengiz Al, Frida Ånnevik, Viljar Knutsen Bjaadal
Synopsis: Shy, slightly awkward, bookworm-ish Mina does a 180 when she leaps into the audition for an Instagram-famous hip-hop dancer’s new crew. But the young teen must overcome inner demons and dance-world pressures to find her own way to shine.
Thoughts:  Proving that even international films can trade in rote formula, I knew early into director Aurora Gossé’s Dancing Queen exactly where the beats would land. After 90 minutes, we arrived safely at the destination as expected. What surprised me was the sincerity with which Gossé delivered the material, helping to keep an easy-to-predict story feeling nimble. Much of the credit has to go to the leading performance of Liv Elvira Kippersund Larsson as Mina, a wallflower of a seventh grader who surprises even herself when she tries out for and is accepted into a newly formed hip-hop dancing crew at her school. With the encouraging assistance of her joie de vivre grandmother (a sparkling Anne Marit Jacobsen) and a determination borne out of a sometimes-questionable desire to fit in, Mina is paired with the most advanced dancer in the group, leading her down a path that can only lead to disaster…or can it? 

I can’t forget to mention Sturla Harbitz (another sincere child performance in a sea of truthful acting) as the literal boy next door and Mina’s best friend that secretly pines for her and whom she completely ignores. Wanna guess how that turns out? The final act has enough emotional peaks and valleys to put you in traction, but it almost doesn’t matter when the credits roll because you’ll be too busy furiously dabbing your eyes. I’d hedge a bet this was an extremely successful film in Norway because it has a rich commercial feel. It’s the type of movie determined to wrap up all loose ends by the final reel and leave no emotional baggage unchecked and addressed. Ultimately, that’s great, though. There’s room for feel-good movies like Dancing Queen, especially when they have the textured spirit Gossé and her cast bring to it.

The Beasts

Director: Rodrigo Sorogoyen
Cast: Marina Foïs, Denis Ménochet, Luis Zahera, Diego Anido, Marie Colomb
Synopsis: A middle-aged French couple moves to a local village, seeking closeness with nature where their presence inflames two locals to the point of outright hostility and shocking violence.
Thoughts:  Nominated for seventeen Goya Awards (Spain’s equivalent of our Oscars) and winning nine, including Best Picture, Director, Screenplay, Cinematography, Score, Actor, and Supporting Actor, The Beasts had also collected a mountain of other high-profile trophies before it arrived at the Minneapolis St. Paul International Film Festival. That made it as prestigious a screening as possible, so no wonder the house was packed for this 147-minute potboiler from director Rodrigo Sorogoyen.  Filmed in French, Spanish, and Galician in Northern Spain, it’s partly a thriller in the vein of Straw Dogs paired with a dash of the backwoods hill-people protocol of The Devil to Pay

Loosely based on the documentary Santoalla from 2016, Sorogoyen and co-screenwriter Isabel Peña form their film around French farmers Antoine (Denis Ménochet) and Olga (Marina Foïs) that have moved to a small village in the country around the same time the entire land is being eyed for sale to a wind-turbine company. Their vote against it nixes the deal, infuriating the lifelong residents that could use the influx of cash. Simmering anger begins as passive-aggressive verbal digs between Antoine and his neighbors, farming brothers (Luis Zahera and Diego Anido) who like to throw their weight around and who have made their distaste for Antoine crystal clear. A war of words turns to threats that become physical and, eventually, deadly. 

There’s a unique structure to Sorogoyen’s film, and to say more than that would be to give away a major spoiler, but there’s a marked change in momentum when the shape of The Beasts changes. It breaks the movie into two distinct pieces, and I have a feeling there will be those that favor the first section, which is conceived as a more commercial thriller (and ooo, does it get the pulse racing a few times!). In contrast, others will find the meat of the film more satisfying in the second part. Personally, I felt the film started to put its characters in a spin cycle during the last 40 minutes. While I didn’t mind the extended length overall, Sorogoyen could easily have trimmed out 9-12 minutes of the film and started looking for what to cut in the second half of The Beasts.

It’s easy to see why the performances scored so big at the Goyas.  Ménochet is superbly cast as the new kid on the block pushed to extreme measures to protect his home and family. As his wife, Foïs’s role is tricky to work with because it requires a lot of waiting around to talk until after everyone else has finished…but they had better listen when she does pipe up. I was more than a little fascinated with the sparks Zahera was emitting in his devious turn as the neighbor from hell. He comes across as more innocuous than his strange sibling, so he should be feared the most.    

With lush but ominous cinematography of the filming locations in Northern Spain, Sorogoyen layers in a subtle score that acts like a trigger to get our blood pumping at just the right time. I’m not sure if The Beasts would qualify for an Oscar run in 2023 or if 2022 was when it would have made the run for the gold, but I’d hope Spain would offer this up as Best International Feature next year. It would be a solid selection for the shortlist, at least.

I Like Movies

Director: Chandler Levack
Cast: Isaiah Lehtinen, Romina D’Ugo, Krista Bridges, Percy Hynes White
Synopsis: Socially inept 17-year-old cinephile, Lawrence Kweller, gets a job at a video store where he forms a complicated friendship with his older female manager.
Thoughts:  I spent a lot of I Like Movies with my hands over my eyes. It wasn’t because there was anything horrific about it or because I was starting to burn out after my third movie of the day, but there were so many moments in Chandler Levack’s Canadian shot/set film that I related to. And I’m not sure I was ready to. I remember being a teenager that found solace in movies and made a local video store my second home. My first adult friends were employees at Mr. Movies (where I later worked, partly because I hung out there so often and started shelving returns for free that the owner decided to pay me). I’d take a marathon movie night over a high school party evening out. 

One thing is for sure; my home life wasn’t as complicated as Levack’s central character, intense high-school senior Lawrence (Isaiah Lehtinen), who lives with his widowed mother (Krista Bridges) and has one friend (Percy Hynes White) that he doesn’t treat with much value. When he gets a job at Sequels Video, he meets store manager Alana (Romina D’Ugo), finding an individual who doesn’t judge him for his intrinsic individualism, as off-putting as it may be. Levack and Lehtinen achieve the challenge of making Lawrence a person you want to root for and throttle, often in the same scene. Lawrence is never a true underdog, just a typical teen dealt some bad hands that flips the table when aggravated instead of attempting to find a new way of winning the game. There’s a nice snap to Levack’s writing filled with early 2000 callbacks without putting the audience in a time warp or leaving those out that may not be as well-versed in movies of that era. 

I Like Movies is a genuine audience pleaser that tells a universal story while homing in on a specific niche. Lehtinen is an absolute wonder, tackling the role with a dark charm that doesn’t always serve him well in the intensely dramatic scenes but wins you over when it settles into gentle sensitivity. As the two central women in the film, Bridges and D’Ugo are superb, with D’Ugo drawing out an extended monologue so richly that you could hear a pin drop in our audience when it was complete. I like movies. I liked this movie. I think you will too.


Director: Laura Moss
Cast: Judy Reyes, Marin Ireland, A.J. Lister, Breeda Wool, Monique Gabriela Curnen, LaChanze
Synopsis: A morgue technician successfully reanimates the body of a little girl, but to keep her breathing, she will need to harvest biological materials from pregnant women. When the girl’s mother, a nurse, discovers her baby alive, they enter into a deal that forces them both down a dark path of no return.
Thoughts:  Horror movies at film festivals can be a mixed bag. Some are classy winners, elevated by their arty vibe, while others are amateur slogs hindered by budget or lack of imagination. Existing somewhere in the upper quadrant is the juicy pulp category. This fun discovery is meant to be shown late at night and right after a Danish documentary about a family wool factory. That’s precisely why Birth/Rebirth was a damn delight to absorb at the end of a long day of good films, the true cherry on top of a Saturday sundae. 

Director Laura Moss makes her feature debut with this treat of a medical horror-thriller. Avoiding the usual pratfalls of the genre by putting the story and acting first, Moss lets the gruesome gore have its memorable moments for maximum effect. That serves leads Judy Reyes and Marin Ireland quite well, allowing the actresses to go to town with the gonzo gaga plot involving Ireland’s medical pathologist experimenting on the body of Reyes’s dead little girl and bringing her back to life. When the girl is miraculously revived by science using questionable methods (to say the least), a moral price to keeping her alive begins to gnaw away at the Reyes…for a while. Working together in increasingly tense circumstances in Ireland’s small apartment pushes the women into dangerous physical and mental arenas where one girl’s life could lead to the death of many.

Distributed through IFC and Shudder, Birth/Rebirth represents the best of both companies. The smooth independent lens makes IFC a standout for finding confident voices like Moss to amplify. It’s a good-looking film that makes some distinct choices in editing that reward the viewer with a payoff they may not expect. On the Shudder side of the aisle, Moss delivers where the horror of it all is concerned but never goes over the top to turn her film into a sleaze and sinew show. The script comes across as intelligent enough to make the mad science sound mostly convincing; you can tell there’s been work put into the small details, with the filmmakers taking the first stab at poking holes into their logic.

Ireland and Reyes are giving two outstanding performances. Like, no joke. The film could have survived with lesser actresses, but it’s the strong beast that it is because of these leads. Add in Moss, and you have a trio of kick-ass women that got the job done on this horror endeavor and are ready to present it to audiences. 

Movie Review ~ The Dark and the Wicked


The Facts

Synopsis: When adult siblings Louise and Michael return to the farm where they grew up to say goodbye to their dying father and comfort their distressed mother, they soon find themselves overwhelmed by waking nightmares and an unstoppable evil that threatens to consume them all.

Stars: Marin Ireland, Michael Abbott Jr., Xander Berkeley, Lynn Andrews, Julie Oliver-Touchstone

Director: Brian Bertino

Rated: R

Running Length: 95 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: Now that we’re in November and I’ve made it through October’s 31 Days to Scare, where I bombarded myself with numerous scare titles throughout the course of the month (numbering more than 31 I should add), I had a realization.  There’s a simplicity in the best scary movies that no loud music stings, gory displays of bloodletting, or cats thrown in front of the camera to make you leap back in your seat can match.  Not every filmmaker has that kind of restraint to resist the urge to go for that easy out.  So whether it be an antsy studio worried their target audience won’t be satisfied or a director that gives into their commercial side of the brain, I started to notice how many films wind up on this path…especially the thrown cats.

It’s been twelve years, but I think my nerves still haven’t quite recovered from seeing The Strangers, director Brian Bertino’s 2008 debut feature, so I was prepared for the same kind of spine-jangling experience with his fourth film, The Dark and the Wicked.  Bertino is a filmmaker that takes his time between films and doesn’t seem to be driven or tempted by the financial side of the business.  In all honesty, I haven’t seen the two films he’s made since The Strangers but get the impression they follow the same efficient tactics he employed in his first film.  Watching his new offering as part of The 56th Chicago International Film Festival, I tried to recreate that experience from home by checking it out late at night with all the lights off.  While it has the requisite scares that admirably often emanate not from something leaping out but just quietly appearing in the frame, if you sweep all that away there’s not a whole lot left for the film to offer viewers seeking more than a quick thrill.

Not that Bertino and his cast don’t give it a helluva good college try.  I almost instantly regretted starting it so late and considered turning a small light on thanks to a prologue that opens in a workroom adjacent to an isolated farmhouse where a woman (Julie Oliver-Touchstone) works mending clothes late at night.  What’s scary about that, you may ask?  Well, all the mannequins, of course.  A disturbance among her farm animals is the first sign to us of imminent danger but is gradually revealed as an evil presence that has set up residence on the property, preying on her and her invalid husband.

The arrival of the couple’s two grown children should alleviate some of this burden but both bring their own baggage along.  Louise (Marin Ireland, The Irishman) is single and without much in her life, a never-worn wedding dress still sitting half-completed in her mother’s workshop.  Leaving his wife and two young daughters at their home a far distance away, Michael (Michael Abbott Jr., The Death of Dick Long) has returned after a long absence to confront some guilt he’s pushed down for not being there to help in the care of his sick parent.  These emotions play a part in the overall horrors that unfold over the time the family spends together, with late night happenings turning from frightening to tragic.

Bertino keeps up a good sense of dread, at least for a while.  Yet it becomes repetitive and stagnant quicker than I had hoped.  Despite a rather unsettling visit from a preacher man (Xander Berkeley, The Wall of Mexico) their agnostic mother had supposedly found comfort in, the cycle of nightly spooky sights runs out of steam.  In films like this that depend on engagement, once the mind starts to wonder what the point of all this intense terror is for, you know something is amiss.  Also, the whole fractured family trope with grown children returning home to find one or more of their parents “not quite right” feels stale and the cracks show in Bertino’s script, though the performances try to keep it fresh.

I tried to like The Dark and the Wicked, actively tried, but the longer it kept establishing and re-establishing the broken relationships and continued in its bleak journey toward nowhere, the less I was interested in the destination.  In his past films, Bertino has been more comfortable in a certain inevitability with his characters but here he doesn’t seem totally able to decide if he wants to relinquish their fates with as much of a clear cut message. That leaves them and the viewer in a strange, uncomfortable place…and not in a good way.

**Note: A shorter version of this review appeared in my coverage of The 56th Chicago International Film Festival**