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Boogeyman

Director: Stephen Kay
Cast: Barry Watson, Emily Deschanel, Skye McCole Bartusiak, Lucy Lawless, Tory Mussett

(Columbia; US theatrical: 4 Feb 2005; 2005)

The Old Place

It’s hard to be a TV teen star. Ask Potsie. Ask Tory Spelling. Better, ask Jennifer Love Hewitt. If you allow your image to be caught up with the character, your chances for a movie career shrink considerably. And so, if you’re young and pretty and ambitious, you take measures to disassociate. Specifically, you take prominent roles that are squarely against the one you’re playing on tv.


When your series is popular and long-running, of course, all such efforts must be dedoubled. Take, for instance, the very public campaign waged by Jessica Biel, who saw the writing on her wall early and waged a public campaign to end her contract with Seventh Heaven, and when that only partly worked, took a series of high-profile anti-Mary parts, in Rules of Attraction, Texas Chainsaw Massacre, and Blade: Trinity (where, granted, her work was hindered by the fact that she played opposite Van Wilder).


While Biel premised her attempted break on opposition, her TV costar is taking something of a different route, playing shaggy-headed boys who sort of resemble Matt Camden, ordinary kids dealing with extraordinary circumstances. Following Teaching Mrs. Tingle (1999, with Dawson’s star Katie Holmes) and 2002’s Sorority Boys (where he played Dave and Daisy) now he’s a standard trauma-victim-cum-hero in Boogeyman.


A perfunctory and often muddled slasher movie, Boogeyman begins with an originary trauma for freckle-faced Tim (Caden St. Clair), afraid of noises and shadows in his dark bedroom (wind, thunder, swing-set chains, rustling leaves, maybe-screeches, clothes on the chair that gather up to loom over him—the poor child is beset by every cliché in the book). Enter his dead-meat dad (Charles Mesure), trying to comfort him by demonstrating that there’s no one under the bed. But when he gets to the closet—“See! Nobody him, just us!”—the special effects crew hits warp drive. The screen is briefly overtaken by a spate of spastic scariness, as dad is whomped and slammed and slashed and sucked into the closet forever, leaving little Tim with eyes wide in close-up, ready for his dissolve to…


... fifteen years later. Now played by Watson, Tim is still scared of closets (his large studio apartment features no walls or rooms, his fridge features a cool designer-window for its front, and the cabinets are all unhinged, screws still scattered on the floor. No doors. This brief, visual, unhammered joke suggests that the filmmakers do have a sense of what they’re working with and that they understand subtlety (one of the producers is Sam Raimi, no stranger to the genre or the jokes). But director Stephen Kay might do better with a smarter, more sustained screenplay (this one by committee and stages, credited to Eric Kripke and Juliet Snowden & Stiles White). The premise is that Tim remains haunted by this awful experience: because you have seen it, you know he’s right to believe it happened. But still, the film pretends that maybe it didn’t, vaguely gesturing toward “tension.”


Some of this evolves in Tim’s flashbacks, which ram through his consciousness and onto the movie screen with a sort of car-crash effect. Zap-de-zap-boom! Though he holds a job as associate editor at upscale End magazine (in “the city”) and has a snotty, wealthy blond girlfriend, Jessica (Tory Mussett), Tim can’t get past the past. And so he hangs onto his relationship with a child hospital shrink (Robyn Malcolm), visiting her when he learns that his mother is dead (his mother is played by Raimi’s old friend Lucy Lawless, nearly unrecognizable under old lady/wraith/corpse makeup). Against a backdrop of more blowing leaves at the hospital, the doctor suggests that Tim move on already, and when his face blanches at the thought, she hurries off to another call, disappearing down the hallway as she calls back, casually, that he should spend a night at “the old place” (that is, the house where dad was sucked up).


You know where this is going—another game of Name That Homage. Even if you assume that it’s hard to come up with new ideas for horror movies, you’d think you could do better than this assortment, put together in very fast cuts, slammy camerawork, and blasty special effects, as if the makers hope you won’t notice that you’ve seen it all before. Among the countable titles: Poltergeist (windy bedroom), Identity (scary motel and screwed up subjectivity), Nightmare on Elm Street (bathtub) Darkness Falls (traumatized child, scary closets, dead parents, wraiths, basically, everything but the Blair Witch rip-off), and The Grudge (very, very bad house), even a little Being John Malkovich in an unworked-out portal idea, whereby Tim is mysteriously transported from the scary motel to the bad house and back).


Additional victims-to-be include Uncle Mike (Phillip Gordon), who essentially shows up to be assaulted by the Boogeyman, and Franny (Skye McCole Bartusiak), a melancholy child wearing a raggedy knit scarf and a sad-looking dress (an outfit that makes her look like the old Pitiful Pearl doll, circa 1960s). Tim and Franny share their conviction that the Boogeyman exists, despite the naysaying all around them, while sitting on Tim’s old swing-set late at night (quoting The Forgotten), with… oh dear… leaves blowing. As Franny leads Tim to his confrontation with the Boogeyman, she also reveals the crazy, scary room her own haunted dad left behind (scrawled writing all over the walls: take your pick of source movie).


Bolstered by Franny’s confirmation of his own belief (and while this confirmation is more complicated than it sounds, the complication hardly matters), Tim gets the more predictable sort of help, namely, the romantic, gutsy girlfriend sort of help. This comes not from his girlfriend, who is so obnoxious, sexually aggressive, and badly acted by Mussett, that she’s either a figment of his imagination, or designated dead girl, or both. Tim’s emotional support comes in the form of a childhood friend, Katy (Emily Deschanel), in whom he long ago confided he was “afraid of closets,” just before he was whisked off to treatment. She comes by on her big black horse, who conveniently rears up and throws her just at Tim’s doorstep. (So, here’s a little Marnie, too.) They reminisce a bit, part ways, then come back together when night falls and the Boogeyman starts harassing Tim. By then, you’re far past caring whether they find one another, get sucked up in the closet, or use the conveniently available nail gun to put one another out of their misery.

Cynthia Fuchs is director of Film & Media Studies and Associate Professor of English, Film & Video Studies, African and African American Studies, Sport & American Culture, and Women and Gender Studies at George Mason University.


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