Written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, The Boy Behind The Door seems inspired by harrowing true crime tales of survival. This one begins on a sunny day, where best friends Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are playing in a remote field before heading to their baseball game. Then, a strike of abrupt violence and Bobby awakens in a car trunk, short on air. Kevin is not with him.
With tenacity and ingenuity, this clever kid breaks out of his cramped prison and realizes he’s far from home. But before he can run away, he hears something. He hears Kevin crying out for help. Refusing to leave his friend in need, Bobby bravely sneaks into the strange house, where more living nightmares await him.
The premise for this one is very thin but smartly executed. Tension is wrung from the adult audience knowing better than these boys what hell might befall them, while we watch helplessly as Bobby slides through dark hallways to evade the sneering abductor. Just when you think this concept will run out of steam, Charbonier and Powell’s savage screenplay offer new obstacles for the boys to overcome.
Making the horror all the more impactful are the performances of Chavis and Dewey. These children don’t play this like some sort of Home Alone fantasy. There’s nothing plucky or playful about how these boys fight against grown-ups who’d do them harm. They cry with crumpled chins. They scream for help and shriek in pain. And when they sprint through the house, those crisp, white and green baseball uniforms feel shudderingly wrong in that dark cramped setting.
Occasionally, Charbonier and Powell make a messy choice that undermines the film’s realism, playing more to suspend-your-disbelief slasher conventions. Still, The Boy Behind The Door is a deeply chilling thriller with a throbbing emotional core. When these boys cry together and for each other, your heart hurts, hoping they’ll make it to the end of their road, alive and together. And if you dig it, be sure to check out Charbonier and Powell’s spooky sister-flick The Djinn.
Originally reviewed out of Fantastic Fest 2020, The Boy Behind The Door hits Shudder on July 29.
Header Image Source: Shudder