“The Boogeyman,” extrapolated from a minor 1970s short story by Stephen King, might conceivably make sense to viewers with no access to proper lighting or functioning windows. For the rest of us, though, this near-indecipherable movie — as murky in plot and payoff as in setting — demands such a total suspension of rationality that its few scary moments struggle to land.
Painted in the broadest of strokes, the story introduces the psychiatrist Will Harper (Chris Messina), his teenage daughter, Sadie (a memorable Sophie Thatcher), and her younger sister, Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair). The recent death of their mother is causing Sophie to struggle at school and Sawyer to suffer night terrors. Will, unable to process his loss, has simply withdrawn — until a haggard stranger (David Dastmalchian) walks into his office and claims a supernatural entity slaughtered his three children. And, oh yes, he might have brought it with him.
Unexpressed grief is fertile ground for all manner of ghouls and goblins, but “The Boogeyman,” despite a promisingly skin-crawling opening, barely rakes the topsoil. Horrible events accumulate, inchoate images whoosh past, black webbing sprouts on walls and ceilings. But the director, Rob Savage, is so stingy with detail — What does the beastie want? Where did it come from? Is there more than one? — that Russell Topal’s eerie sound design does most of the heavy lifting. Idiocies abound: Characters scream blue murder, apparently unheard by family members in the same house; a creature that feeds on darkness is battled by burning dozens of miniature candles instead of, say, shining a flashlight.
Accordingly, squint and strain as we might, the monster never satisfyingly takes shape, either visually or narratively. This isn’t a home that’s been invaded by a boogeyman; it’s a home that’s been expressly designed for one.