BOOGEYMAN (2005)

Editor’s Note: This was originally published for FANGORIA on February 4, 2005, and we’re proud to share it as part of The Gingold Files.


When you’re in the business of reviewing movies, it can be interesting to observe which movies the studios consider worthy of advance screenings for critics, and which—more pointedly—they don’t. Boogeyman was one such unpreviewed film, which is a little odd considering that, for handy example, Alone in the Dark was shown to reviewers beforehand, and specifically because Boogeyman is somewhat better than distributor Screen Gems’ previous Anacondas and Resident Evil: Apocalypse, both of which were pre-screened. This film, the first production but second release by Sam Raimi and Rob Tapert’s Ghost House Pictures, isn’t great, but it has its moments and is certainly superior to the very similarly themed Darkness Falls (which, come to think of it, was also given critics’ previews).

Boogeyman attempts a more psychological, character-oriented approach than that predecessor, at least on the script level. The problem is, no one apparently told director Stephen Kay, who tries way too hard from way too early on to visually juice things up. When hero Tim (Barry Watson) arrives at the childhood home he hasn’t seen in years, it’s not enough for him to simply unlock the worn-down front door and enter the spooky, shadowy place—Kay gives us a macro cutaway closeup of the key clicking through the lock, then sends the camera zooming through the house at odd angles and at varying speeds. Later, when Tim goes to help old friend Kate (Emily Deschanel), who has taken a spill off her horse, Joseph LoDuca’s music carries on like it’s the climax of a Die Hard sequel. When Tim becomes trapped in a closet, it’s the cue for swirling images, jagged edits and all sorts of visual calisthenics that are supposed to put you into Tim’s tormented state of mind, but instead leave you wondering what tricks Kay has left for when things are supposed to get really scary.

Tim does have good reason to fear closets; as a child in the movie’s prologue (played by Aaron Murphy, who looks startlingly like Marguerite Moreau’s little brother), he witnessed his father being violently dragged into one by the titular creature. Ever since, he’s had trouble dealing with closet doors (as Kay reinforces with fast zooms and ominous, tilted close-ups of their knobs), but when he gets word that his mother has died, he decides to return to the scary old homestead and face his fears. No surprise, he’s the only one who believes that the Boogeyman is real, with the exception of a solemn little girl named Franny whom he befriends. Her ultimate purpose in the story is no great surprise either, but Skye McCole Bartusiak’s sympathetic performance in the part nicely sidesteps creepy-kid clichés.

For a while, there’s the suggestion that all the Boogeyman stuff could in fact be just in Tim’s head, and when Kay’s camera calms down, Watson has a few well-judged moments of doubt and interactions with Deschanel and Bartusiak. The director also effectively handles a couple of sequences of spatial disorientation, and flashbacks involving Tim’s father and mother (the latter played by an unrecognizable Lucy “Xena” Lawless). Too often, though, Kay resorts to his overstated camera and editing tricks, plus loud noises and shock cuts that become wearying instead of building tension. There are a few too many familiar images (a faucet spewing black fluid, an abandoned building interior covered in scary graffiti), and if the story’s resolution made sense in Eric Kripke, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White’s script, its meaning becomes lost in the welter of strobe lighting and CGI unleashed at the climax.

The discontinuity between material and directorial approach suggests an uncertainty behind the scenes of what movie the production team wanted to make, a suspicion exacerbated by the fact that the death scenes described in Fango #240’s set visit (including the one pictured on the cover) aren’t seen in the final feature. Boogeyman as it stands now suggests a feature that started out wanting to be in the creepy, insinuating Asian horror tradition (à la Ghost House’s The Grudge, which is being heavily referenced in the advertising), but then lost its nerve and decided to sell its soul to the MTV filmmaking approach. Too bad; the movie that resulted is likely to leave both “quiet horror” fans and in-your-face thrillseekers disappointed.

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