It’s entirely appropriate that this claustrophobic horror flick should come from the production company co-headed by Sam Raimi, because in some ways it’s reminiscent of “The Evil Dead,” the early shocker that made his name. Just as that barebones effort portrayed a guy (Bruce Campbell) trapped alone in a cabin filled with threatening supernatural forces, so “Boogeyman” is basically about Tim (Barry Watson), a young man who finds himself under assault when he returns to his boyhood home, the source of his crippling phobias, after his mother’s death in order to confront his personal demons–terrifying visions and memories, deriving his father’s disappearance and his mother’s apparent breakdown, crystalized, it appears, in his continuing fear of the boogeyman in his closet–which could be either otherworldly or psychological in origin. (Tim’s family name is Jensen, but from the looks of the homestead it ought really to be Bates. A run-down motel even plays a part in one of the picture’s shock sequences.) Of course there are substantial differences between the two pictures. Raimi’s was a sardonic riff on the genre, going for comic effects more than standard-issue thrills and inviting viewers to laugh along with its colorful visual absurdities. Stephen Kay’s picture, on the other hand, aims for serious thriller status. There’s some occasional dark humor on hand, of course, but overall this tries to be a movie in the vein of the original “Jeepers Creepers” (which, not so coincidentally, was initially titled “Here Comes The Boogeyman”) or the American remakes of “The Ring” and “The Grudge,” designed really to unsettle its audience and earn some gasps and screams from those susceptible to such reactions. So in place of Raimi’s bright scheme, it revels, “X-Files”-style, in a gloomy atmosphere of brooding mystery and menace.
Obviously there’s nothing complicated or profound about a movie like this one, which despite its pretensions to psychobabble is basically the cinematic equivalent of a haunted house ride; and you know that any explanation offered for the scary phenomena is hardly going to be deep or taken seriously. The only question is: does it work on its very limited terms? Unhappily, the answer is no. To be sure, director Kay has mastered the tropes of the contemporary frightfest–there are plenty of breathlessly-edited flashbacks featuring horrific images, creaking doors, ghoulish special effects, weird camera angles and swooping crane shots, and sharp jabs of music and noise to accompany every “gotcha!” moment. But all his tricks are hung on a very slender reed. Simply put, by script by Eric Kripke, Juliet Snowden and Stiles White doesn’t do a satisfactory job of working out its premise. The first mistake is to dilute the tension by moving too much of the action out of the house, “Grudge”-style; that dissipates the buildup of suspense by losing the focus of the horror Tim is supposed to be facing. A second is to drag in entirely too many characters–a childhood friend, a new girlfriend, an uncle, even a little girl–to serve as companions in Tim’s experiences; they’re all entirely colorless types who never engage our sympathy, whatever might befall them. A third is the failure to make Tim himself a compelling sort of guy: as played phlegmatically by Watson, he’s a pretty pallid damsel- (sorry, dude-) in-distress. But most seriously, the screenplay fails ultimately to tie things together in any satisfactory way; it really doesn’t even make the effort, just tossing the boogeyman figure, ghosts and kids’ disappearances (apparently–I must confess that this layer of plot was awfully opaque) into an incoherent grab-bag of disconnected shock effects–stylishly mounted but ultimately empty and pointless.
Apart from Watson, who’s the soft center of things throughout, nobody in the cast makes much of an impression. Emily Deschanel is drab as his childhood chum Kate–a sequence in which she walks through the Jensen house calling Tim’s name and saying things like “This isn’t funny!” can only be a takeoff on the oldest of horror cliches, though it doesn’t look like it’s being played for laughs–and Tory Mussett exhibits a shapely form but little else as his girlfriend Jessica (she’s got a bathtub scene that seems lifted from the “Nightmare on Elm Street” series). Skye McCole Bartusiak is supposed to ooze an otherworldly quality as Franny, the kid who shows up in the Jensen shed, but doesn’t quite manage to do so. And Lucy Lawless appears ever so briefly as Tim’s mom–a part that’s little more than a cameo. For a movie of this sort “Boogeyman” looks fine–Bobby Bukowski’s cinematography, which emphasizes greys, browns and greens, is suitably moody, and he does manage some nice moves.
But in the end it’s all much ado about very little, because at center this is a hollow exercise in horror devices that has nothing new to scare us with. Watson’s first line in the picture is “This is gonna get ugly,” and though that sentiment might be a mite harsh, it’s not far off the mark.