Director: Peter Sullivan
Writer: Peter Sullivan, Jeffrey Schenck
Producer: Peter Sullivan, Brian Nolan
Stars: Marisol Nichols, Brian Krause, Jearnest Corchado, Bella Stine, Pedro Correa, Mick Ignis, Jack Erdie, Justin Ellings, Isabel Gravitt
A troubled teen under house arrest connects a rash of missing children in her small town to a mythical Mexican boogeyman.
Beating up one of her little sister Amelia’s bullies earned rebellious teen Sofia six months of house arrest. Sofia has a telescope to pass the time at least. Between her shirtless crush Milo doing bicep curls in one nearby window and odd new neighbor Boyd up to something strange on the other side, there’s plenty to peer at too.
The more fascinating focal point gripping Glimmer Peak involves a string of missing children. The sleepy town is still recovering from a junior high school student’s suicide one year ago. Now they have to contend with a kidnapper and possible serial killer in their midst.
Incredibly, some believe the culprit could be none other than ‘Cucuy.’ According to Mexican folklore, Cucuy is a boogeyman who steals misbehaving children while they sleep, takes them to his cave in a sack, and eventually eats them. It certainly sounds outrageous. But when witnesses whisper about a red-eyed creature, the myth gradually gains momentum.
With the case continuing to strike closer and closer to home, Sofia lands smack dab in the center of a potentially murderous mystery. Unfortunately for her, the blinking monitor on her ankle literally limits how far she can take her amateur investigation. Sofia will have to get crafty to connect the dots. If not, her family may fall prey to Cucuy’s evil.
To repurpose something Stephen King once said regarding mass market appeal versus estimable literary achievement, “Cucuy: The Boogeyman” may be the cinematic equivalent of a Big Mac, but that’s perfectly okay with parties on both sides of the transaction. Syfy isn’t a resource for elite entertainment any more than McDonald’s is a destination for fine dining. You patronize the establishment because you want familiar flavors and satisfactory sustenance. Expect anything else and it’s on you for walking through the wrong door.
Like his previous horror film “The Sandman” (review here), writer/director Peter Sullivan’s “Cucuy: The Boogeyman” serves a simple purpose as feature film filler that puts the basic in basic cable. It’s the kind of thing undoubtedly written in two weeks, shot in the same amount of time, and then pushed to post-production for minimal CGI before whatever month they were in was over. That’s not a knock. That’s an acknowledgment of efficiency. Having produced around a dozen TV movies every year since 2015 alone, several of which have “Christmas” in their titles, Sullivan clearly has the formula for fashioning 90 minutes around commercial breaks down cold.
“Cucuy’s” hook naturally comes from its eponymous urban legend. It’s always a plus when a film can teach a tidbit about a unique culture by incorporating a lesser known tall tale told to scare bad kids straight. Be that as it may, Cucuy’s tale doesn’t have too much to it. Hissing only one word and having no real origin to speak of, Cucuy is a bit boring as a baddie, emphasizing the subtitle by being employed as an ordinary boogeyman.
Cucuy looks more than a little goofy too, like an embiggened “Phantasm” jawa with the Zuni fetish doll’s maw from “Trilogy of Terror.” As with everything else about the movie, that’s par for the course considering the made-for-TV tone.
The story never becomes any more complicated than necessary. Neither does the Latin American aspect of the fiction. I sincerely apologize if I’m making a mistaken assumption, but based on his name, IMDb profile photo, and Massachusetts birthplace, Peter Sullivan doesn’t outwardly appear to be Mexican. Maybe that’s why an early scene where random Spanish terms of endearment stick out like sore thumbs during an otherwise all-English exchange sounds like it was written by a white man forcibly inserting foreign flavor. Perhaps Sullivan isn’t the ideal person to deliver a definitive Cucuy film.
As indicated by his extensive experience however, Sullivan is the ideal person to deliver predominantly PG entertainment tailored to MOW tastes that favor vanilla. “Cucuy” works through a checklist of standard family fright flick setups including a boy afraid of his dark closet, hiding under a bed, a suspicious neighbor who turns out to be an ally, and a finale where each vengeful blow comes with a cry of, “this is for (victim’s name)!” Order now and you’ll also receive at no additional cost: a photogenic cast featuring at least two familiar names, a sexless romance between the two main teens, and more than one scene of online research revealing late inning exposition.
Sullivan’s script also weaves in a few emotional moments with varying degrees of enthusiasm. A one-and-done sequence where Sofia confronts her mother about ignoring their Mexican heritage comes from far out of left field. Recurring bits about the dangers of online bullying have far more poignancy, although the moral gets undercut by a Humpty Dumpty ending putting everything back together without fatal consequences.
Backed into a corner where Sofia’s ankle monitor inconveniences plot progression, Sullivan slips in a scene where her beau Milo simply says, “let me take a look at that.” Cut to the two teens traveling across town entirely unhindered. Basically, that’s the depth of creative complexity being dealt with here.
I can’t stress enough that for all the “pfft!” sounds that can be predictably puffed in “Cucuy: The Boogeyman’s” direction, it’s still the honest day’s work movie it always means to be. No one will hum the music afterward, though it gets the job done in the moment. Same with the straightforward cinematography, sets, acting, and editing. Nothing stands out as particularly memorable, yet nothing sticks out as particularly awful either.
Intentionally engineered to be average from start to finish, “Cucuy” comes in a safe wrapper, unfolds easily, goes down smooth, and digests quickly. If that doesn’t describe the cinematic equivalent of a Big Mac, I don’t know what does.
Review Score: 50