in a dark room, a woman holds an open lighter and a man holds a child
Credit: Patti Perret / 20th Century Studios

We’re living in a post-Babadook world, and movie monsters are no longer content to simply be scary; they have to stand for something important, like mental health awareness or what it’s like to have a complicated relationship with your mom. The Boogeyman, Rob Savage’s adaptation of a 1973 Stephen King story of the same title, is about grief, or rather grief personified as an evil entity who latches onto a recently widowed DILF (Chris Messina) and his two daughters (Sophie Thatcher and Vivien Lyra Blair). It fits neatly into this lineage of trauma monster movies like Smile, Men, and Hatching that want to be sure—really sure—you understand what the big scary monster represents. Thankfully, despite the lack of subtlety inherent to that approach, it’s probably the best of the bunch so far.

Savage wrote the 2020 horror movie Host—a direct-to-streaming release about a Zoom seance gone wrong—which arrived at just the right moment during the first wave of the pandemic to feel timely and become a word-of-mouth hit. I’ve seen it several times and still couldn’t tell you a single detail about the story if I tried, but I do remember that I almost fell off the couch every single time a suspicious shadow popped up in the background or a whisper could be heard just out of frame, and that same dynamic of a forgettable plot housing nerve-shredding scares carries over into Savage’s newest movie. This isn’t a movie that does a single new thing with its premise, and I was on the verge of an eye roll when an especially broad character sets up trip wire booby-traps and bait for the titular monster like she’s hunting a grizzly bear rather than, you know, the capital-B boogeyman. But every time we got a glimpse of a boogeyman-shaped silhouette in the corner of the room, I nearly full-force kicked the seat in front of me. I pray to God there are no more movies about someone’s depression manifesting as an eight-foot-tall slenderman, but if this is the dumb-as-dirt final frontier of that trend, at least the monster is scary as hell (and has a vital message for us about healthy grieving processes). PG-13, 98 min.

Wide release in theaters