Boogeyman Pop

Boogeyman Pop (2018)

“Are you good?”, teenaged Tony (James Paxton) will be asked by his best friend Forrest (Dillon Lane), in the first of three formally headed sections (‘Chapter 1 Wolf Like Me’, ‘Chapter 2 Casa Dracula’, ‘Chapter 3 Ghouls’ Night Out’) that make up Brad Michael Elmore’s Boogeyman Pop, the follow-up to his striking debut The Wolfman’s Hammer (2011). “Everything alright at home?”, Tony will later be asked by a concerned Detective Tabor (King Obra).

It is clear for all to see that Tony is troubled: his mother Vivian (Natalka Palmer) is alcoholic and uncaring, and regularly lashes out against his kindly stepfather Ed (M.C. Gainey), who has become infantilised by a brain tumour that is killing him. In a funk and a rut, Tony just wants out, whether via drugs and sex, or a more permanent solution. 

With her own loveless home life, self-harming teen wiccan Danielle (Dominique Booth) has an obvious crush on Tony that only he fails to see, even as she has certainly caught the eye of the older, predatory drug dealer Matt (Greg Hill) who takes advantage of everyone. Danielle is also worshipped from afar by her much younger neighbour Blake (Sam Jadzak), who, though not yet getting the sex he has started craving, is about to go tripping on mushrooms with two friends for his first time. Meanwhile, an older man (Kyle Cameron) in a grotesque mask is prowling the streets in a beat-up Cadillac and smashing kids with his baseball bat – like Lil Slugger from Satoshi Kon’s Paranoia Agent (2004).

Elmore’s tightly interwoven anthology reimagines the hell of adolescence experience – the bad drugs, the sexual exploitation, the domestic dysfunction, the anxious emergences from the closet, the haunting, even bludgeoning persistence of the previous generation’s still-unfolding ills, and the endless, often self-destructive yearning for anything else – in the language of horror (wendigo, werewolves, satanic rituals, vampires, an unstoppable Eighties-style slasher). Boogeyman Pop plays out its teen rites of passage through the ensemble filter of Richard Linklater’s Slacker (1990), Robert Altman’s Short Cuts (1993), Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia (1999) or Doug Liman’s Go (1999), wrapping its three narratives in on each other while crossing genres as much as timelines over its night of chaos. This is a heady kaleidoscope, offering impressionistic slice-of-life glimpses of confused, fucked-up youth struggling to find their way – or a little empowerment – in a menacing, hostile world.

The prologue of Boogeyman Pop sees Steve (Dayton Sinkia) and Nicole (Alixandra Fuchs) rapidly exiting a night club. Steve is furious about the band they have just heard. “Half their set was a bunch of fucking Misfits covers,” he says, “Fucking lame, nobody wants to hear that fucking retro shit… it’s fucking dad rock.” Yet even as the phone signal that marks this generation mysteriously fails, these two are about to be reversed over by the Slugger’s rusty old Caddy, while the film’s title will appear across the screen in bright, bold Seventies yellow (to match the Seventies/Eighties-inflected score by Wolfmen of Mars). In a film full of families with fathers absent in one way or another, this is the revenge of the past, as daddy – or ‘pop’ – proves to be an implacable, unkillable boogeyman revenant with a murderous grudge against the young.

“I just keep the party going,” Matt will tell Danielle, “and it’s always the same party.” Elmore’s feature, though sensitive in its depiction of the modern adolescent, is equally respectful towards the older, ever returning tropes of horror’s history – and it is the violent collision of them both that drives the film both forwards and backwards down an eternally dark road. The kids are not alright – but they never were – and the future is bound to repeat the past.

strap: Brad Michael Elmore’s tightly woven horror anthology tracks an ensemble of troubled teens through literalised rites of passage

© Anton Bitel