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Sunday, 14 December 2014

Boogeyman (2012)

Director: Jeffery Lando
Stars: Eddie McClintock, Amy Bailey, Emma Samms, Danny Horn, Gabriel Steele and Ian Redford
Jeffery Lando is one of those folk who make feature length movies for the Sci-Fi Channel with actors best known for TV shows who have both the time and the need for a wage. We know he's capable because he hasn't just made one. Sci-Fi Channel movies don't have to be any good (and, in fact, often take perverse pride in being anything but) but they do have to be finished on time and on budget or the director isn't going to be asked back. Lando gets asked back rather a lot, so he must be doing something right. After House of Bones with Charisma Carpenter from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Angel, then Super Tanker with Callum Blue from Dead Like Me and Smallville, he was tasked with making Boogeyman with Eddie McClintock from Warehouse 13 and... well, a large collection of pilots that never actually became shows. As such things go, this could have been a lot worse. Its theme is a little more interesting than usual and McClintock has a lot of fun, so we can forgive at least some of the rest.

We're big Warehouse 13 fans here but, to be honest, Pete Lattimer was far from my favourite character on the show, not because McClintock didn't do his job right but because I have a tendency to look past the dramatic leads on American TV shows and prefer the more interesting characters playing support. To me, Warehouse 13 was all about Claudia and Artie, not to mention H G Wells, rather than Pete and Myka, who were the traditional leads. Meeting McClintock at Phoenix Comicon's first Fan Fest and having a blast at his Q&A though, I'm sure that he's a star waiting to happen. Watching Boogeyman suggests to me that he could well be the next Dean Cain, making awful picture after awful picture but remaining consistently watchable in each of them and earning a living by racking up those credits. He's as bubbly and fun here as he was in Warehouse 13 (and 'Why does she get a sword?' could have been written for Pete Lattimer), but he's also able to bring some gravitas to proceedings, to talk seriously with his screen son as needed.

He's a cop here, Michael Samuels, and he's quickly called out to the west side to look into a mysterious death. We know just how mysterious, because we watched it all unfold before the title credits. Some big kids pick on a little kid conveniently right next to the local spooky house, Skinner's place, and one tosses his phone up through its rose window. Jacob, the little kid, mans up and goes in to get it, discovering that it's a hoarder's house, with flies buzzing around huge piles of decaying trash. He walks upstairs and finds that the doorway to the room he needs is boarded up and chained to boot; clearly all finished with being afraid, he unchains it and walks in, to find more chains and strings of intestines but no phone. He's about to meet the blackened skull faced monster who lives there when Skinner shows up and the big kid hauls Jacob out of there. Skinner suffers a heart attack, perhaps from the shock of finding this creature is loose, and his last words, looking up at the monster, involve his brother.
And here's the theme in a word, much of which I can't explain without venturing into spoiler territory. Let me just highlight that brothers and the connections between them crop up continually throughout, right from the introductory text that references Cain's murder of Abel in the book of Genesis. The big kid who throws Jacob's phone into Skinner's house, but who also pulls him out before Skinner catches him, is his brother Isaac, and they turn out to be the kids of Officer Samuels too. There are other pairs of brothers in the film and it's worth remembering that while watching the story unfold, or we'll believe ourselves stuck in a routine slasher movie with a routine slasher villain who does all the things that a Boogeyman should but without any apparent reason in the script to do any of them. Frankly, that remains a problem even in hindsight, because there is nothing to explain why this Boogeyman has to hide in a little girl's closet or under a little boy's bed except that it's standard operating procedure for Boogeymen.

So while the Boogeyman racks up corpses without a back story to explain why, we're supposed to watch Jacob and Isaac instead, their Biblical names almost as old as Cain and Abel's. They weren't brothers in the Bible, of course, Isaac being the father of Jacob and Esau, but perhaps Esau was too archaic a name even for a story that is never embarrassed to be convoluted. We also watch the leads, Michael Samuels and his new partner, Rebecca Asher (more Biblical names to ponder), but not just because they're cops investigating the inevitably escalating body count. Samuels fathered the kids we're watching and it isn't rocket science to figure out what Asher tries to hide almost from the first moment we meet her. Rebecca Asher was by far Amy Bailey's biggest screen role at that time, but she does a capable job, enough that Lando brought her back a year later to play the female lead in Supercollider, opposite Robin Dunne from Sanctuary. Everybody has to start somewhere.
I was rather surprised to discover that the acting is a consistent plus for this movie. No, there aren't any Oscar-worthy performances here but, unlike many of the Sci-Fi Channel originals I've seen, nobody cares so little that they shine as a weak spot and the TV star moonlighting from his show doesn't phone it in. I liked the characters, even when they were thrown weak material to work with. The weakest link may just be the biggest name, as perennial soap star Emma Samms looks great for 52 but proves unable to quite muster the dominance she wants to wield as the chief of police, Samuels and Asher's boss. As the kids, Danny Horn and Gabriel Steele aren't particularly experienced but they do what they're asked to do well enough. It's fair to say that the older kids are all annoying from the outset and it takes a while to be able to relate to Isaac, but that's because they're written that way rather than because the actors are slacking. I'd guess that McClintock's joie de vivre is usually contagious on set but they fought it well.

If the acting is the strongest point, the weakest has to be the writing. Oddly, it's not consistently bad, as the dialogue is generally well above par for Sci-Fi Channel fodder. The Wayne's World nod was done well, in two neat parts, and it sets the stage for a great deal of agreeable humour, even if some of it is only to lighten the tone. McClintock can always be relied upon to maintain natural comedy, whatever the script, and the dialogue here makes it easy for him to become the life of the film. The problems come with the structure, as it's never really comfortable with what it is. Its religious tale is higher concept than usual for the Sci-Fi Channel and its twists are well executed, but it has no conception how to live up to its ideas. So it phrases itself as a slasher flick instead, but it can't provide grounding without spoilers so it just runs on autopilot. A mysterious killer needs victims, so they're conjured up out of thin air, just like the inevitable hidden room, the scare scenes in kids' bedrooms and the chance discovery of a massacre survivor.

The decent acting and the agreeable humour might just serve to balance out the poor structure and the many conveniences, but that's not all. The twists are strong, but the actual ending comes far too quickly and vaguely. Skinner's cool old house ought to be a plus, especially with the whole hoarding aspect, but it's not done right at all. Worst of all, the monster is just a guy in a mask, who really doesn't get much to do on screen. The mask itself, a sort of charred Lon Chaney as the Phantom piece, might have worked in strong expressionistic settings, but only looks cheap in the wasted opportunities the creature gets. And I think that's a fair summary of the movie: it aims high but has no clue how to reach its goals, so becomes something of a wasted opportunity. At the end of the day, it's no hardship to watch, but there's precious little to remember from it except another effervescent performance from Eddie McClintock, which with Warehouse 13 now off the air, might just become the first of many such for the Sci-Fi Channel.

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