The poet Robert Bly has written about the deep costs to society and to culture of the all too common phenomenon of missing fathers. Bly, along with many other psycho-social commentators, isn't saying that people can't grow up healthy and well-adjusted without the presence of a dad in the house. But he is saying that it can be harder - for everyone involved.
Barry Watson stars as Tim in Boogeyman.
A missing father is the force at the center of the new movie shocker, Boogeyman. The movie opens on a dark and stormy night. Cut to the bedroom of eight-year-old Tim. The boy, who seems particularly susceptible to things that go bump, is too frightened to sleep. Finally, his father who, we will learn, has scared the bejesus out of the kid with a story about the film's title character, comes upstairs to allay Tim's fears. He looks out the window, he looks under the bed. Then he looks in the closet. Unfortunately for both father and son, he never comes out again. Indeed, poor Tim sees his father dragged into the dark by some awful unseen hand.
Flash forward 15 years. Tim is now a young man working for a magazine not unlike NUVO. Like most of us NUVO staffers, Tim has problems. Just opening a closet door, for example, makes him almost catatonic. But never mind, he's good looking in a raffishly rumpled sort of way and has a girlfriend who drives a Mercedes.
In addition to the phobias, which we can only infer make Tim a bit of a handful, we soon learn that he's had a rough childhood. His dad ran off when he was a boy (eight years-old, to be exact) and his mom was institutionalized shortly thereafter.
When word comes that mom has died, Tim goes back to the old family house to collect a few things. This, of course, will mean rummaging around in dusty old closets. Look out.
That's the extent of Boogeyman's set-up. For those of us who like our horror served with a garnish of character and a side of plot, this is pretty thin stuff. One thinks back to Nicholas Roeg's Don't Look Now, or Peter Weir's The Last Wave, films that based their effects on the fragility of the elaborate structures people build to keep the unthinkable temporarily at bay. These films used methodical first acts to make what happened later seem inescapable and thus inevitable and so - really and truly frightening.
But Boogeyman has a different audience in mind, one for whom a certain formula - Boy loses Dad, Boy may be Crazy, Boy faces Fear ... followed by Dawn - is sufficient. You can say these people are plugged into archetypes and can forego the quaint niceties that used to be called "storytelling." You can also say these people have forsaken drama for the multiplex equivalent of a roller coaster ride.
Tim goes to the house where his life started going wrong and, sure enough, things immediately start going wrong again. For the next 60 minutes Boogeyman is one damn thing after another - in Dolby SurroundSound.
Having said all this, it is only fair to add that tucked within this packet of calculated jolts and lashes are bright flecks of the sort of craft that are bound to rise to the surface when otherwise intelligent people engage in work that merely challenges them on a technical level. For one thing, though Boogeyman is set nowhere in particular, it was actually shot in New Zealand. The light, the landscape and the built environment - what little we see of it - has an austere otherworldliness. The cast, led by Barry Watson as Tim, is admirably low-key. Watson, in particular, carries himself like the young, slim Oliver Reed. And look for Lucy Lawless in full, cadaverous cry, as Tim's barely present mother. The fact that the film is not a gore fest speaks to the relative restraint that everyone, from director Stephen Kay on down, seems to have brought to this smartly low budget production.
I wish I could say that, in the end, Boogeyman is an over-the-top metaphor, a passion play about growing up in a world where the fathers have, due to their own inchoate fears, fled the families they've started. There's a horror movie there, for sure. But this is probably wishful thinking - and thinking is the one thing Boogeyman seems afraid of.