Director Sam Raimi produced last year’s surprise horror hit “The Grudge” starring Sarah Michelle Gellar. This weekend, his GhostHouse Pictures imprint follows up that box office champ with “Boogeyman,” another PG-13 low-budgeter that is aimed at the same crowd. Raimi seems uniquely qualified to oversee this new factory line of scary movies. After all, it was he who directed the terrifying and hilarious “Evil Dead” trilogy before graduating to more mainstream affairs like the “Spider-Man” films. The financial windfall of “The Grudge” proves that he knows a little something about taking a niche market and opening it up to a whole new audience.
It is not much of shock, then, to note that “Boogeyman,” although directed by Stephen Kay (“Get Carter,” “The Last Time I Committed Suicide”), has Raimi’s fingerprints all over it. Like the cult favorite “Evil Dead II,” there is little time spent on plot and character and way more emphasis on jarring sound effects and fast-paced camera trickery. What “Boogeyman” seriously lacks, however, is Raimi’s sense of humor.
What little story there is begins pretty brutally for little Timmy. Like any child, Timmy’s fear of what lurks in the darkness of his bedroom manifests it self as the Boogeyman. His father, in an effort to toughen his son up, has the unfortunate habit of locking him in enclosed spaces to prove to him that there is no such thing as the boogeyman. One night, in an effort to prove to his son that such things are just stories, his father opens Timmy’s closet and is violently sucked in and spit out again, screaming. And sucked in again. Forever.
Fast forward to the present, and Tim (Barry Watson) is all grown up, and still mighty afraid. His apartment is thoroughly Boogey-proof. The doors on all the cupboards have been removed, his bed lies firmly on the floor, and his refrigerator door is made of see-through glass, presumably to make sure the Boogeyman isn’t snacking either. His girlfriend Jessica, played by Australian actress Tory Mussett with a bizarre mixed accent that should declare its own nationality, is frustrated by Tim’s troubling fear. He has a crazy dream about his estranged mother, and awakens to a phone call that tells him she has died and must come home for the funeral.
All of this takes place so that we can get Tim to confront his fears about the Boogeyman by spending the night in the creepy Victorian home where he grew up. How’s that for a forced premise? Along the way, there are some distracting subplots that go nowhere. One involves a little girl (Skye McCole Bartusiak) who also believes the Boogeyman is real, and connects him to dozens of child abductions. But is she herself real?
The other sideline character is Kate (Emily Deschanel), as Tim’s former childhood pal who is also skeptical of his stubborn belief. In one of the most unintentionally hilarious character introductions in recent memory, Kate is thrown from her horse in Tim’s yard. As he rushes outside to help her, the horse gallops off. Kate rubs her head in pain, Tim promises her ice, and they make small talk. As her horse runs away, forgotten, Kate blithely says “How about that ice?” and follows Tim inside.
Although the film drags and then stumbles its way through a soft middle section, the tension picks up once Tim investigates the many creaks and groans in the house. What follows are some old-fashioned haunted house thrills and more jerky camera movements. Kay steals a page from Raimi’s familiar bag of tricks with long, fast-motion tracking shots that span the hallways, jetting through doorways and closets. Budgets for horror films have changed a lot since the first appearance of Raimi’s infamous Sam-O-Cam, mounted on two sawhorses and being hand-pushed through the woods in 1983’s “The Evil Dead,” but the concept remains the same. It amps up the pace, and the anticipation it creates is palpable.
Kay also wisely chooses not to show too much of the Boogeyman at once. The combination of well-placed shadow and lightning-fast cutaways keep the audience guessing as to his true form. That is, until we finally get a good close-up of him at the end and the Boogeyman is revealed to look like a video game graphic from “The House of the Dead.”
The one element of the writing that does work is the seemingly random shuffling of Tim’s reality. The Boogeyman takes over his victim’s entire idea of perception in a clever spin-off of the Freddy Kreuger character, as he re-travels through his own actions, filling in the violent blanks as he goes. But let me clear for a moment. We are not dealing with David Lynch here.
Yes, like “Mulholland Dr,” the absolute facts of what truly happened are not revealed. And that’s a good thing. It is refreshing to see a thriller that doesn’t rely on the insulting “twist ending” for a change. (See “Hide and Seek*). And it is nice to see that not everything is spelled out for us. Unlike “Mulholland Dr,” though, “Boogeyman” has no idea what it is trying to say, and its open-ended ness is not a challenge. It is merely incohesiveness.
*But don’t really SEE “Hide and Seek.” Rather, you may reference the review of it, but in the name of all that is holy in the world of movies, don’t actually SEE it.