Saturday, February 05, 2005

REVIEW: Boogeyman

As always, let's let it stand that a mild spoiler warning is in effect...

For whatever else may be wrong with it, "Boogeyman" has one of the best opening scenes I've witnessed in awhile. Expertly photographed, well-acted and scored, perfectly setting up the visual motifs that one generally expects from a film called "Boogeyman." It's one of those scenes that captures an "I've been there" childhood-experience moments, then beautifully transforms it into a large-scale "your worst nightmare" sequence; one of those scenes that any good spook story needs.

Unfortunately, the end of the beginning spells the beginning of the end of anything really cool or notable coming from "Boogeyman."

The story: Our 20-something hero has issues. They seem to stem from having had his father walk out on him, and (it's implied, then puzzlingly dropped) the resulting mental deterioration of his mother. It's not that simple, of course: Our hero, as a boy, insisted that his father didn't walk out... rather, he's sure that his father was really sucked into the closet by The Boogeyman. Despite an apparently lengthy run of therapy, this belief has left him traumatized to this day, and terrified of closet doors as a bonus. Advised that "spending the night" in his old, now-abandoned house will cure his ills (no, really, thats actually what happens,) he hunkers down for a night at the old homestead to "face his fears." No prizes for guessing that the house is plenty scary-looking enough without a Boogeyman present, or that suspicious locals and yes, even "the girl that got away" start turning up to propel the story.

I won't spoil the ending for you, but I don't think it counts as the same thing if I tell you something that most definately ISN'T the ending, (or, rather, the "answer.") I only bring it up because it's absence is sort of a pleasant surprise. Anyway, here goes: No one in the principal cast of "Boogeyman" ever turns out to actually be The Boogeyman in their previously-unknown schizophrenic alternate-personality. Remember when that sentence would seem like a given? But for the last few years, "the bad guy is really the good guy's eeeevil other-half" has become the go-to "gotcha" for sub-average thrillers, so I found it sort of a nice surprise that "Boogeyman" doesn't go for it even though it would easily "fit" the movie.

The flip side of the coin is, sadly, that "Boogeyman" doesn't really "go for" much of anything. It's well directed and moves at a fluid pace, and for awhile there it looks like we may actually be heading somewhere interesting; but instead it bogs itself down in a clunky "all hell breaks loose" finale that would be welcome if the film had bothered to give us more reason to care about what's going on and what it all means.

I was hoping that the film was going to highlight some of the "origins" behind the mythology of "Boogeymen," (it's generally thought that the term is a modern evolution of swamp creatures or "boggy-men" of old European folklore,) or at least create an interesting mythology of it's own, but sadly this is not the case: There's as little going on with The Boogeyman himself as there is with his titular film. The closest we get to a "big idea" in this case is that the movie seems to imply that The Boogeyman is not only "The Closet Monster" but also "The Monster Under the Bed" and "The Bathtub Drain Monster,"along with a few others I might have missed (he's also, apparently, "The Runs-Out-of-Ideas-and-Just-Runs-Up-The-Stairs-And-Decks-You Monster," but I'd never heard of that one before.)

This is one of those scary movies where at (or near) the finale, as surviving characters stand around gravely intoning "it's over...", it's only the audience that seems to think "it's over... except for how you explain all those missing people and property damage." For awhile, it looks like the film might even head into interesting psychological dimensions about fear and trauma, but in the end all we've got is a gussied-up monster movie, featuring really one of the most dull-looking "monsters" in a good while.