Home » ‘The Boogeyman’ Director Rob Savage on Creating the Perfect Scare, Sequel Ideas, & Sam Raimi Collaborations – Exclusive Interview

‘The Boogeyman’ Director Rob Savage on Creating the Perfect Scare, Sequel Ideas, & Sam Raimi Collaborations – Exclusive Interview

by Andrew J. Salazar
A head shot of director Rob Savage next to an image of Vivien Lyra Blair holding a bright moon ball light from his new horror film THE BOOGEYMAN.

Now that the nation has gotten a taste of the bone-chilling terrors of The Boogeyman, Rob Savage is a name every horror fan is going to want to be familiar with. The British writer-director first rose to prominence during the COVID-19 pandemic with his computer screen supernatural horror film Host. The Shudder original was birthed from a viral prank filmed over Zoom with much of the cast that would end up in the feature film. Shot and completed over 12 weeks on the actual Zoom software – with the cast and crew setting up the majority of their own cameras, lighting, and stunts virtually – on a mere budget of 100,000, Host became a horror sensation that proved Savage’s skills and ingenuity. He would follow Host up with Dashcam at Blumhouse, another found footage horror story shot entirely from the perspective of an iPhone and a dashcam inside the main character’s car.

Evidently, this filmmaker has a knack for drawing out fear from simple yet cunning methods. This made Rob Savage the ideal choice to helm The Boogeyman for 20th Century Studios, which is his largest project to date. Based on the 1973 short story of the same name by Stephen King, The Boogeyman follows high school teenager Sadie Harper (Sophie Thatcher of Yellowjackets fame) and her little sister Sawyer (Vivien Lyra Blair, who played young Princess Leia in Obi-Wan Kenobi) as their grieving family is haunted by a sinister entity that feeds off their grief and suffering. When you have a script by Mark Heyman and A Quiet Place creators Scott Beck and Bryan Woods and the additional talents of Chris Messina, Marin Ireland, and David Dastmalchian in the ensemble cast, you’re left with a pretty well-rounded horror flick. However, to many moviegoers, The Boogeyman is much more than that.

Originally meant for a streaming release on Hulu, Disney decided to send The Boogeyman to theaters after positive test screenings – some so good that Rob Savage actually had to re-cut the film and add moments where audiences could recover after screaming so much. After Stephen King himself delivered a lovely essay to Savage, giving his blessing over this adaptation, The Boogeyman was all but ready to unleash its terror across cinemas. In sitting down with director Rob Savage for an exclusive interview, we were able to dissect the true horrors of The Boogeyman. We cover everything from the technicalities behind the film’s best scares to how Savage and his team finalized the extremely creepy creature design for the titular monster. Finally, we get an update on what Rob Savage is working on next, which includes multiple projects with horror legend Sam Raimi and even a possible Boogeyman sequel!

Exclusive Interview with Director Rob Savage for The Boogeyman

Your two previous horror films, Dashcam and Host, were indie productions that were very much run-and-gun. Now that you’ve made the jump to studio filmmaking with your largest project to date, how do you think your previous low-budget horror movies prepared you to make The Boogeyman?

Rob Savage: It’s interesting because before I made those two low-budget movies, I was working a lot in TV. I was working on things that much more resemble The Boogeyman, and then the pandemic hit just when I was about to start working on another big TV show. The Boogeyman had been about three years since I had been on a proper set, everything else prior had been shot on an iPhone. My last two movies were found footage shot on an iPhone and largely improvised as well. We had a beat sheet rather than a full script, and I improvised a lot with my cast. So I was a little trepidatious about stepping into [The Boogeyman] and that maybe I wouldn’t be able to slip back into that mode of filmmaking.

But it was amazing having the resources to make this movie exactly how I wanted it to be. I had everything storyboarded in advance and we were able to build sets to fit my storyboards. We spent months coming up with the creature design and really put a lot of resources towards it. But the thing that I really took from my last two movies was making sure that even when you can do anything – when you’ve got the budget to do whatever you want – you need to keep some spontaneity. I tried to keep a similar way of working with the actors, we improvised a lot. We played around with the scenes and even though I planned stuff out, if something better presented itself on the day, I would always try and lean into that with my team.

Sophie Thatcher holds a lighter and her small flame lights the darkness around her and reveals Chris Messina holding Vivien Lyra Blair next to her in fear from the horror film THE BOOGEYMAN.
Sophie Thatcher, Chris Messina, & Vivien Lyra Blair in ‘The Boogeyman’ courtesy of 20th Century Studios

You’ve gone on record to say how much you enjoy a really good jump scare. But some of the most horrifying images in The Boogeyman are of the titular monster standing quietly in the dark, staring at the audience almost like something you would see from a creepypasta on the internet. How do you balance those kinds of silent visuals with the more traditional loud jump scares?

Rob Savage: It’s all about mixing it up. If the audience feels like you’re falling into familiar patterns, they’ll be able to get ready for the jump scare or get ready for the creepy moment that you would rather feed them naturally. It’s really about breaking up the different scares in the movie. What we did on The Boogeyman is we put all of the scares on the wall with different colored bits of card, depending on what kind of scare they were. So we had some scares that were more creepy, like to get under your skin when you catch just a glimpse of the creature on the ceiling. Then we had some that were more classic jump scares.

We also had some that were a bit more like a kind of hide and seek, like when Sawyer is hiding from the monster and it’s more of a scene of tension. So it’s really about breaking up the surface of the movie with different kinds of scares and making sure that you instill in the audience enough of a sense of dread that when you get into jump scare territory, they’re already primed. In the early sections of this movie, we don’t really show that much of the creature. We show eyes in the dark and we show little flashes that set the viewer’s mind to what this monster might look like. You need to let the audience stew in that fear a little bit before you start throwing jump scares at them.

You briefly touched upon it earlier, but the main creature design in the film is a really good example of how less is more sometimes with movie monsters. Can you talk about finalizing that long and slender design and bringing the Boogeyman to life visually?

Rob Savage: I felt like because this is the Boogeyman – this is kind of the first thing that we’re afraid of its children – so it had to have a childlike simplicity to it. The creature had to be something that a kid could emulate in a crayon drawing. We wanted something that was recognizably human-like even though it’s this weird, contorted figure. It’s actually made up of bits that you would find on human beings, even with the kind of toothy grin that it has. Later in the movie, that grin is revealed to be something different altogether.

Obviously, at the end of the movie, you’re going to see the creature. It’s a studio movie, so the family has to fight this monster. But I wanted there to be this scary hidden element to the creature. Even when you’re seeing it, we reveal a new aspect to it that’s fresh and terrifying, and alludes again to [Stephen King’s] short story. The short story has this twist ending that involves a face beneath a face without spoiling it. So our final creature design and the way that it unfolds in that final act is just tipping our hat to the short story.

The Boogeyman works fantastic in a theater with a packed crowd no question, though I would argue that it also doesn’t lose its horror effect at home. Skinamarink is a really good recent example of a horror film that is just as scary in a theater as it is alone in your room in the dark. How much of that dual moviegoing experience did you have in mind when you were crafting the more technical aspects of The Boogeyman, like say lighting and sound?

Rob Savage: I think that’s totally right. You have to think about both experiences when you’re making a horror movie. Ultimately, you want to make something that people are going to take home with them. And I think, really, all the best horror movies find a way to take a safe, domestic space and mess it up, you know, pervert it in some way. It’s the reason why Paranormal Activity was so scary in a cinema, and Skinamarink is obviously very heavily inspired by Paranormal Activity with the idea of your house being the domain of something dark and evil.

You know, the thing that most of us share in common is that when the sun goes down and it’s time for bed, we switch off all the lights in the house. So everyone sits in darkness and tries to get to sleep, and it’s about trying to find ways to trigger a fear response from that, the dark areas of your house. This place that feels like home and feels like safety, if you can find ways to trigger the audience in a way that they project onto their own safe spaces. That’s really what you’re looking for. I mean, Host was really gearing towards that because we were all locked inside our own houses [during the pandemic]. But I was trying to bring a little flavor of that to The Boogeyman, which is really a haunted house movie. It just happens to be that it’s a creature.

Director Rob Savage poses for a photo on the set of his new horror film THE BOOGEYMAN surrounded by candles on the floor and black polaroid photos on the walls of a rotting room.
Rob Savage on the set of ‘The Boogeyman’
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

The lighting in your film almost feels like a character within itself, since the Boogeyman can only exist in the dark. You get really creative by lighting scenes only with candles, electronic screens, nightlights, etc. Can you talk about having to go above and beyond with the lighting for this specific story?

Rob Savage: The lighting was huge in this one because, again, talking about that kind of starkness in simplicity. This is a very simple movie plot-wise, and we wanted it to feel like we’re boiling it down to the very fundamentals of this creature. The fact is that everyone who’s been a kid terrified of the boogeyman in their closet knows that it lives in the darkness and it doesn’t like light, which is a tale as old as time. But the question then becomes, “Well, how can we make that interesting?” How can we make that not just people wandering around with flashlights and lit candles? How can we find different ways to dramatize this battle between light and dark?

So me and Eli Born, our amazing cinematographer, came up with ways to thread that needle with different looks for each scene and different devices that would play into the scare scenes. It plays the scares and the anxiety in different ways for the audience, you know, having a character with a moon ball – the device that Sawyer uses to scare off the monster – and the Christmas lights at the end. It was about making sure that every single scene had its own identity. And you could talk about it the next day with your friend and say, “The moon ball scene!” or “The Christmas lights scene” and everyone knows exactly what you’re talking about. So the way we lit scenes became part of the film’s DNA.

I have to say that Sophie Thatcher is fantastic in the film, and she’s certainly turned a lot of heads towards The Boogeyman with her popularity in Yellowjackets. Why was she your perfect choice to lead this story?

Rob Savage: She’s got that kind of real vulnerability to her. But, also, she feels like she could punch you in the face and knock you down. She’s got that amazing quality in a lot of her other roles. She’s played the badass before but we wanted her to be much more like somebody who wants to disappear into the wallpaper in this movie. She’s somebody who’s coming into her own over the course of the movie, and Sophie is able to play that kind of growth in really beautiful, understated ways. She’s also able to carry the film’s horror scenes on her shoulders. Every single day, she’s showing up and having to exist on set at this level of fear and trauma response. It’s really a crazy thing to put your body through, what she did on this movie.

Sophie is delivering on a level that’s like Toni Collette in Hereditary. She’s really, you know, placing high in the trauma Olympics. But it was also because she’s a big horror fan. So she gets it, she knows the mechanics, and she knows how to make those horror moments play. Even when the characters are making decisions that are not advisable, she’s able to make them feel authentic. She’s able to play those scenes of wandering down creepy hallways following strange noises and she knows the building blocks of horror because she’s such a fan. So instead of it being like, “Trust me, this will be scary” it felt like were really collaborating on every single one of those things on set.

Director Rob Savage gives comments to lead actress Sophie Thatcher during an emotional scene on the set of his new horror film THE BOOGEYMAN.
Sophie Thatcher & Rob Savage on the set of ‘The Boogeyman’
Courtesy of 20th Century Studios

Finally, with The Boogeyman coming after a good streak of horror with Pearl and the X Saga, Barbarian, Smile, and so much more, horror fans are going to want to know what you’ve got cooking next. It was reported a few years ago that you had a project in the works with Sam Raimi. Do you have any updates on that or do you know what your next feature will be exactly?

Rob Savage: Yeah, I’m really excited about the one with Sam. That one’s been a long journey, but we’re just getting it into a place where I think it’s about ready to go. I’ve actually got a couple of projects with Sam, there are a couple that haven’t been announced yet that are really exciting. I love working with him. There’s also an adaptation of a short I did called Salt, which is another kind of demonic horror that I’m really excited about and I think could be one of the ones that comes next.

I’m actually doing a movie that I’m really fucking excited about which I think could be The Hills Have Eyes for the next generation. That’s an original movie that I’m working on with the same guys who did Barbarian actually, the same producers. And then we’ve also got really fucking great idea for a Boogeyman sequel that everyone’s really excited about. It’s not what you would expect from a big studio movie sequel, but it’s really terrifying. I’m really excited about it. So if this film doesn’t bomb, maybe that could be next! That’s on the horizon as well.

The Boogeyman is now playing only in theaters!

Follow Managing Editor Andrew J. Salazar on Twitter: @AndrewJ626

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.