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Source material is rarely translated to the screen in its truest form. Lord of the Rings fans still demand Tom Bombadil, Harry Potter fans still becry SPEW, and Percy Jackson fans just want the ages to match up! I fully accept that a five hundred page book cannot become a two-hour movie. And yet in this, my problem with The Boogeyman (2023) reveals itself.

King’s short story is exactly that – short. What’s more is it is highly effective. The Boogeyman is a ready made ninety-minute chill-flick with a savage twist and a tone that creeps up on you like a Winter’s chill. Yet, what appears on screen is so different both tonally and sans-twist as to be a completely different film altogether.

Now take what I say moving forward with a pinch of salt, King himself was very happy with the script, and his word trumps mine all day, everyday (see here, also find the names of actors and production: The Boogeyman: Movie Based on Stephen King Story Revealed but here are my two key reasons why I was let down by the adaptation. Spoilers ahead.

The Boogeyman Explained: Tone

King’s short story remains rooted in the tragedy that befall the Billings family. Multiple dead children, a wife gone, Lester Billings is mental shattered and seeking out the help he needs from a psychologist (psychiatrist? His credentials are never specified), Dr Harper, to continue living. This is a man already on the edge. It splits the reader down to their core, did this man’s children succumb to the Boogeyman? Or did Lester kill them himself? It is gripping, macabre, and heart-wrenching.

The film, however, makes a key change. The Billings family are not the central concern of the film, but the Harper family themselves. They too have suffered trauma with the loss of their matriarch, and are each scrambling to build their lives again around the hole she left behind. Lester is still a character, but now, he is a harbinger of his bad news and the poison chalice that appears to bring the Harper family to the attention of the Boogeyman.

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Tonally, this change is huge. While the Harper family are in the throes of grief, to hear the movie The Boogyman explained it is apparent that they are not desperate in the same way that Lester Billings was in the short story. They become victims of a creature that senses their trauma and seeks to exploit it, a passing coincidence as Lester could have went to any shrink.

the boogeyman movie explained

In the short story of The Boogeyman, however, the tone is more pressing, the Boogeyman appears to select its target and then wear them down through sowing the seeds of confusion, distrust, and fear amongst the family before ripping it apart and moving on. The Boogeyman of King’s short story has more agency, more evil, and a greater will to torment than its onscreen counterpart.

Which leads me to my next gripe…

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The Boogeyman Explained: The Missing Twist

If it seems like I have a vested interest in the purity of this short story, it’s because I do. I wrote about it (Stephen King’s The Boogeyman: The Story, History, and Meaning) in anticipation of the film being released. And this story sucker punched me. It was a psychological rollercoaster with a cheesy twist that both paid off and drew me into the horror-style of the decade it was written.

Billings was being hounded by a creature that wanted to see him crumble, his family almost seemed inconsequential, or perhaps he was just a sweet treat after a big meal? Who knows. The point is that the Boogeyman was calculated and vicious – a demonic presence that mortals had no hope against.

The film took a different tac.

Where Kin’s Boogeyman was an agent of Hell, Rob Savage’s is a hellhound. The remake veers close to a creature feature, rather than a complicated relationship between man and demon. The Boogeyman is equally as ferocious, and shows signs of calculation (like when he steps on Sawyer’s ball of light and then rolls it – cracked and broken – back to her) but, ultimately, comes across as a demonic beast that follows its nose and base desire for subsistence, as opposed to a malevolent presence that takes pleasure in tormenting its victims.

the boogeyman movie explained

There is a throwaway line about how Savage’s Boogeyman “likes to play with his food” but this comes across more like a puppy throwing a treat, rather than a complicated game of torment and helplessness.

And this is where my break between the short story and the film adaptation occurred. The kicker of King’s The Boogeyman short story is that the shrink that Billings goes to see was the Boogeyman in disguise all along. The help he had sought, the regaling of his tragedy in the hope of absolution or, at least, understanding, was never available to him. The creature that had ripped his family apart had taken joy in donning a human disguise and listening to the tales of its own misdeeds from the very victim it had spent years plaguing. If Billings had been trying to repent, he was repenting to the Devil and the Devil was laughing.

— FOUNDATIONS OF HORROR

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Now, the film does appear to be setting this twist up (a psychologist removed as the Harpers also see a psychologist) but it pulls away at the last minute. A nice nod to the original. But a necessary one. Absolutely nothing about Savage’s Boogeyman sets up that the creature is capable of talking in complete sentences (echoing does not count), never mind running an hour-long psychotherapy session. Its cognitive ability is far below its on-page counterpart and in doing so, we are robbed of a twist that reshapes the nature of the story itself. Where King writes of a Boogeyman from the zeitgeist that we were all once scared of, Savage’s Boogeyman could have been an alien from A Quiet Place.

Concluding Thoughts

Was the movie bad? Absolutely not. I started off with all my lights off and then had them all on by the end of the film. I hid behind my phone twice because the tension was making me squirm. It’s a film worth your time. My only issue is that it is not King’s Boogeyman. I’m not a purist, I understand the realities of adaptation. But, to completely eschew the tone of a story doesn’t sit well with me.

If you’re going to slap King’s name on something, I feel it should be recognisable as King’s work. This film – while good! – was not. It could have been any alien invasion film, any creature feature. King’s Boogeyman was a hellish mental torturer, Savage’s was just hungry.

Last Updated on November 19, 2023.

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