Here is a list of things that are supposed to scare us in the new movie Boogeyman: a dilapidated old house, dripping water, flickering lights, a group of ghostly children, a bathtub filled with blood. Have you ever seen any of these things in a horror movie before? Have you seen any of them more than once? Too many times? Here they are again, trotted out as though they were brand new concepts. One would be excused for approaching Boogeyman with a “been there, done that” attitude. Really, what else is there to feel?
Barry Watson plays Tim Jensen, a young man with a pathological fear of closets. You read that right – closets. As a child, his father freaked him out with stories of a boogeyman who lived in a closet. Tim even thinks that he saw the boogeyman snatch his father away when he was eight years old. Upon learning that his mother (Lucy Lawless) has died, Tim returns to his boyhood home for the first time in years. He reconnects with old friend Kate (Emily Deschanel) and meets Franny (Skye McCole Bartusiak), a little girl who also believes in the boogeyman. Naturally, the creature is still in the home, waiting for Tim to return.
If there’s one thing a horror movie should not be, it’s dull. That’s exactly what this one is, though. Take the scene in which Tim enters the house. He stands outside staring at it. Then he slowly makes his way onto the front porch, where he analyzes the doorknob for a few moments before turning it. After cautiously making his way inside, he walks around with great delicacy, never daring to move faster than a snail. When it’s time to go upstairs, Tim very gently steps on each stair and pauses nervously in front of each door. I just wanted to shout at him to hurry it the hell up. The whole movie is like that. Each time Tim passes a closet door, he stops dramatically to stare at it. There’s absolutely no sense of pacing to this film. If I didn’t know better, I would swear that Boogeyman was filmed entirely in slow motion. There is a difference between creating slow tension and boring the audience, but director Stephen Kay doesn’t seem to know that.
Making matters worse is that Barry Watson gives an absolutely dreadful, charisma-free performance. Tim is supposed to be haunted by his past trauma, but he comes off more like he’s stoned. The idea of a hero who is afraid of closets is dubious at best, and Watson’s performance only makes it seem even sillier than it already is.
Horror movies typically have their own sort of logic, no matter how bizarre that logic may be. As much as I detested Friday the 13th, I at least recognized its central conceit: Jason Voorhees drowned while his camp counselors were fooling around, so he returns to the campground to kill other horny teenagers. It’s stupid, but at least it comes full circle. Boogeyman doesn’t muster up even the most inane horror movie logic. We are never told who the Boogeyman is or where he came from. Or why nobody except Tim and Franny can see him. Or what exactly Tim does to get rid of him. The ending even features one of those banal final exchanges in which Kate says, “Is he gone?” and Tim replies, “Yeah, he’s gone.” How do they know he’s gone? What evidence is there? Oh right…the closet is empty now.
There is also an implication that the boogeyman is responsible for all the children who disappear mysteriously each year. Franny supposedly is one of those children. We are told that her father tried to confront the boogeyman by sitting in a chair in front of the closet, but again we have no clue how he knew to do this or what purpose it was intended to serve. I’m also still struggling to figure out the extended sequence in which Tim moves to different physical locations by entering a series of closets. Is the creature moving him from the closet in the house to a closet in a hotel?
So far, 2005 is turning out to be a very disappointing year for horror movies. Boogeyman comes only a week after the unspeakably awful Alone in the Dark. Both pictures are bad but for different reasons. Alone in the Dark is an example of pure ineptitude. It is the work of people who are staggeringly untalented. Boogeyman, on the other hand, represents flat-out suckage. While the technical elements are certainly more skillful, the story is nonsensical and poorly conceived. Nothing whatsoever is explained. It is merely a haphazard assemblage of horror clichés, punctuated by the occasional so-loud-it-makes-you-jump noise on the soundtrack. (I have a theory, expressed in previous reviews, that some modern horror movies have artificial scares created not by quality filmmaking but by loud, unexpected sound effects.)
Recently, Hollywood has discovered the joys of the PG-13 horror movie. Following the surprise success of The Ring, a PG-13 rating is suddenly more desirable than an R. When I was growing up, horror movies had R ratings and they were filled with blood and gore. These days, they are more influenced by Asian horror films with their trippy images and unsettling feelings of dread. Teenagers – who are too young to get into R rated pictures – can now get a taste of what was previously forbidden fruit. Best of all for the studios, they frequent movies like Darkness Falls, The Forgotten, White Noise and The Grudge, in groups. Boogeyman is clearly aiming for that audience but even the least jaded 14-year old will doubtlessly recognize it as pure, unadulterated junk.
(1/2 out of four)
Boogeyman is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of horror and terror/violence, and some partial nudity. The running time is 1 hour and 26 minutes.
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