Although The Djinn beat it to release in the US by a few months, The Boy Behind the Door is writer/director David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s first feature. Unlike that film, this has a plot rooted in the all too real horrors of child abductions and human trafficking. And it’s all the more shocking and disturbing for it.
The film opens with Bobby (Lonnie Chavis, The Water Man, This Is Us) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey, The Djinn) in the trunk of a car. A brief flashback shows their violent abduction from a park. Back in the present Kevin is taken from the trunk by the unseen and unnamed Creep (Micah Hauptman, Phobias, Rust Creek). Left alone Bobby manages to escape the car’s trunk, only to find himself in the middle of nowhere.
Before he can make an escape he hears Kevin screaming inside the house. Unwilling to leave his friend to his fate he enters the house to save him, setting off a deadly game of cat and mouse.
Right from the start, The Boy Behind the Door gets things right. There’s no padding or distractions to dilute the suspense and tension. Bobby is constantly forced to stay one step ahead of danger, and when he’s forced into a confrontation it isn’t typical movie heroics. His reaction afterwards is unexpectedly realistic rather than what we expect from a male protagonist.
In its last half hour, The Boy Behind the Door becomes incredibly taut as the boys have to deal with the arrival of Ms. Burton (Kristin Bauer van Straten, True Blood, Paradise Cove), the leader of the trafficking operation. She relentlessly stalks Bobby through what seems like endless hallways, and in one jump-worthy scene makes the audience recall The Shining.
There are also a couple of harrowing scenes, one involving a pair of snips and a finger, the other a shock collar. There is quite a bit of violence but not a lot of gore in The Boy Behind the Door. The boys are constantly on the receiving end of kicks, punches and other abuse which is painful to watch. But it holds back on blood and wounds so that when it does gets bloody the excellent practical effects have maximum impact.
Chavis, who was impressive in The Water Man delivers another outstanding performance here. With Kevin chained in the basement for most of the film, he has to be the physical and emotional center of the film and do it with a minimum of dialogue. He does wonders with just his facial expressions and body language. Given the right roles, he has a bright future ahead of him.
Dewey gives a good performance when he’s on-screen, but for most of the first hour, he’s locked away out of sight. When we do see him he does a good job of projecting fear and resilience. And later he gets to unleash some righteous anger when he has a chance to strike back at one of his tormentors. While Ms. Burton isn’t a very complex role, van Straten makes her into a wonderfully nasty villain. Her presence helps elevate the last act considerably.
The Boy Behind the Door isn’t a perfect film, however. There are several cases of incredibly bad judgment scattered throughout the film. Some can be excused by the boys’ age and the situation they’re in. But the adults make some absolutely boneheaded moves as well. There are also some very tired clichés, like the scenes with the cop who turns up at the house and the just in the nick of time ending. But overall they’re minor issues in an otherwise very solid film.
One film that definitely lives up to its festival hype, The Boy Behind the Door premieres on Shudder on July 29th. You can check the film’s Facebook page for more information.