A failed Star Wars gag made The Boogeyman scarier

The boogeyman is a mood. Based on Stephen King’s short story of the same name, the film is a grounded supernatural drama, the rare summer horror flick that finds room for both trauma exploration and a nightmarish shadow monster. A few notable performances, from Yellow jacketsSophie Thatcher and Obi Wan Kenobi‘s Vivien Lyra Blair, grounded the ghostly hijinks in the perspective of two young women dealing with… shall we say an overwhelming amount of life piled on them all at once.

While the state of horror leans towards the extreme/high concept, with outbursts like Barbarian And M3GAN proves that audiences go wherever a visionary maniac takes them, the latest from chilling filmmaker Rob Savage (Host, Dashcam) feels like a gamble. The boogeyman is buttoned up and polished – not what fans would expect from Savage, the man who made a horror film using only Zoom, but perhaps the mark of a versatile filmmaker. 20th Century Studios seems to agree; although The boogeyman was reportedly shot and aimed at a streaming release, it eventually was incurred to the cinema release calendar.

Why was a throwback Stephen King studio film the obvious choice for an indie darling, a director known to cult horror aficionados for challenging formal norms and embracing abrasive filmmaking? (Dashcam rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, and Savage knows it.) Where was there room to play? Given what an exciting voice Savage is in horror at this point, Polygon (scared) jumps at the chance to talk to him about what he’s brought The boogeyman.

[Ed. note: This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.]

Polygon: The boogeyman feels like a left turn after your previous two indie horror films. It is exciting. Why was this the one to do next?

Robert Savage: My first reaction was: The only reason to do a movie is hot The boogeyman when a thousand boogeyman movies have been made, the final version had to be made. So it couldn’t be something that felt trapped in 2023. I didn’t want it to feel like its time, but something that was completely timeless. So I watched a lot of movies from the 1960s and 1970s, and these movies that are still terrifying to this day. They have a nice simplicity that I wanted to achieve with this film. And to be honest, I knew if I made it scary enough I could do it Ordinary people as I did Poltergeist also. That was really the pitch.

Image: 20th century studios

Your movies seem to start with visual conceit. Host is told through a zoom window. Dashcam uses an Uber dashcam. You short Dawn of the deaf subverts zombie tropes with deaf characters. The boogeyman has a more classic look, but still thought about it in a similar way?

I am driven by visual storytelling. The filmmakers that inspired me when I first picked up a camera, filmmakers like [Alfred] Hitchcock and [Dario] Argento and [Brian] De Palma, were filmmakers who really led the way with their visuals. And when I was working on the script with Mark Heyman, who was doing the drafts of this movie that I supervised, I sent him storyboards, doodles, images, scenes from movies that evoked a similar feeling, or the kind of feeling I wanted to create. at public. I wanted the audience to feel like that kid again, waking up in the middle of the night, looking into the dark corner of their room and imagining there’s something there. I was always trying to figure out how we could play with that kind of subjective experience and bring the audience back into that sense of helplessness, because we’ve all been that kid, we all remember that fear.

The early images of the film were really about taking dark areas into focus and asking how we could give that presence. This idea of ​​the eyes staring out of the darkness just hinting at the form there. It was an attempt to recreate that feeling when you wake up in the middle of the night and your eyes adjust. And you’ve draped your jacket over the back of a chair, and it looks like someone’s in your room. I wanted to find ways to evoke these childhood memories.

What is Scare? When you construct scenes in a movie, how do you think of coming up with a scare?

There are scares and there are scares. I like both. I think a jump scare is much more about movie language. It’s about knowing what the audience expects – you’re almost playing a game with the audience. They guess where the fright will come from, and you sort of lead them down a path that feels vaguely familiar, then subvert their expectation. I think it’s always about taking a familiar, safe place and somehow perverting it. Making the house, especially the bed you sleep in, a terror zone, that is always fertile ground.

It’s also about giving the audience images that will grow in their brains after they see the movie. Often jump scares are self-contained. You don’t really need to give them much energy after they finish. But there are some images that stay with you when you go home, when your apartment is dark and you want to turn on all the lights. In this movie, it’s the eyes in the dark. And also the scene where Sophie is in the kitchen and you have the lights of the cars passing by, and you only see a fleeting glimpse of this creature. That’s one of the first times we see the creature – I knew it would stick in the minds of the audience. It’s almost an ink blot test. You show them just enough of something for their mind to do the rest.

Rob Savage stands in a dilapidated house with polaroids on the wall lit by candles aka the set of The Boogeyman

Rob Savage on the set of The boogeyman
Photo: Patti Perret/20th Century Studios

You get a lot of mileage out of a light ball, which the youngest daughter throws into several dark corners. That feels like something real, but did you invent it?

That is real. We just ordered it from Amazon. It was such a last minute thing. It was originally intended as a toy lightsaber that bulged and malfunctioned. But then I forgot she was Princess Leia [in Disney Plus’ Obi-Wan Kenobi] and Disney, which I totally understand, didn’t want Princess Leia holding a crappy lightsaber. So we just googled, like “children’s toys that light up.” We rewrote the scenes in an afternoon and it ended up being the best thing in the movie.

What have you learned from Stephen King’s short story, or his general approach to horror?

I wanted the ways we extrapolate the short story to be true to the themes he was discussing. I wanted this movie to feel like it was a real cross between the real world – horror and trauma, just like the short story – and this fantastic bogeyman character. That meant making sure that all the things we were inventing that weren’t in the short story felt like it was rubbing shoulders with all the other King adaptations, that it felt King through and through. A lot of that was just about dealing with the characters in a thoughtful way, and that there was no nihilism in this movie, that there was a hopeful note to it as well. That’s something King always does very nicely. He is never a cynical writer.

Your take on the short story ‘The Boogeyman’ leaned harder into King’s cosmic horror impulses and reminded me of the world building in the Dark Tower series. Have you also looked at HP Lovecraft?

Lovecraft was something we went for in the third act. We had this Boogeyman creature that we created, and I wanted there to be a moment at the end where you realize that what you’ve seen on screen is just a fraction of what this thing can do, and there are aspects to it be this thing. you can’t possibly understand it. There’s a cosmic horror element that reveals itself when the creature finally starts attacking [Sophie Thatcher’s character] Sadie one-on-one. We went very weird and body-horror with it. I still can’t believe we did it.

Sophie Thatcher as Sadie Harper and Vivien Lyra Blair as Sawyer Harper embracing in the therapist's office in The Boogeyman

Photo: Patti Perret/20th Century Studios

i would put The boogeyman in the “creature feature” category, which I believe has declined over the last decade. No could count, Crawl is there, but not too many monsters stalking unsuspecting victims in studio movies today. Do you think there’s an inherent challenge to that subgenre? How did you navigate it?

It’s hard with creature features because if you can punch the thing in the face, it’s inherently less scary. So the kind of physicality of a creature is certainly less scary than something supernatural that is unknown. And so we wanted to make sure that even though it’s a physical being, it ultimately has supernatural elements in it. This thing can appear anywhere it’s dark, and it can follow her to reach the house. Even though it’s a creature trait – and it certainly is a creature trait – it goes there at the end. I wanted it to feel like a classic 1970s haunted house movie for most of its runtime.

As younger filmmakers gain a foothold in the studio world, I see the sophisticated language of video games creeping into film footage more and more. As a person who probably grew up around Resident Evil as much as Hitchcock did, are there games that are fundamental to you? Did you look at any of them before making them? The boogeyman?

I will say: I just found myself playing and replaying the Last of Us games. And so I wouldn’t say I’m influenced by video games, but I’ve been hugely influenced by the Last of Us games. I refer to that constantly in every film I make. I send people playthroughs of certain scenes – there are scenes in them The boogeyman where me and eli [Born, cinematographer] loved certain stealth scenes in The last of us. It’s an incredibly well done horror game, probably the best game of all time. They’re so involved, and to give the audience that sense of subjectivity… I think only video games can really do that. But if you can transfer even a fraction of that into a horror film, you really scare the audience.