Movie Review: “The Boy Behind the Door”

The Boy Behind the Door was a film I didn’t have on my queue. Written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell in their directorial debuts, the horror thriller premiered at the Fantastic Fest late last year, and was released this summer on the Shudder subscription service.

I can’t say I recognized any of the cast members, those which included names like Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Scott Michael Foster, and Micah Hauptman, but I can tell you that Lonnie Chavis’ performance in this film is better than it has any right to be, given he was twelve when the film premiered.

The Boy Behind the Door was a film I didn’t have on my queue, but was a pleasant surprise and a testament to why I believe it is important to take a leap of faith every now and again.

The film is taut and doesn’t mess around – straightforward and to the point. One minute, two boys are on their way home from the woods, the next, they have been kidnapped, and the main-story of the film unravels – survival. An African American child, Bobby wakes up in the trunk of the car where he was meant to be left for dead and disposed of later. The reason it’s important to mention he’s African American is because that’s the reason he was left in the trunk of the car while his friend would be groomed for human-trafficking (which is a sentence that offers a lot to be upset about to say the least).

The film, which clocks out at a cool 88 minutes, sees Bobby escape from the trunk of the vehicle and task himself with rescuing his best friend from the madmen who’ve kidnapped them.

The Boy Behind the Door deals in challenging subject-matter, most often kept away from in mainstream cinema. Horror films like Eli Roth’s Hostel have certain dabbled in human-trafficking, but it’s the child component, I think, that really makes moviegoers squirmy about the content itself. That in mind, the film doesn’t concern itself with creating a harrowing, definitive expression of human-trafficking, but, instead, uses it as a vehicle for telling a classic cat-and-mouse story.

Lonnie Chavis is an easy protagonist to root for and get behind. Obviously, it’s easy to compartmentalize an adult protagonist or even root for a strong villain, but, contextually, you would be hard pressed to find a reason not to root for a young boy in such a situation. That said, Lonnie does very well at evoking sympathy and conveying a range of emotions, effectively earning your support. I think he does very well and I look forward to seeing more from him (in the research I did for this review, I read the actor was nearly kidnapped when he was eight-years-old. Terrifying.).

The film is an exercise in technique and skill, dealing in a small budget, a handicap that makers of dark subject-matter often flourish in. The film is intently minimal and smartly accommodates its shortcomings through suspense and atmosphere, dark-lit, tight-fits, and horrific, unsettling imagery. It does so, as well, without ever succumbing to gratuity.

Although The Boy Behind the Door does have a certain gritty-meanness to it, conceptually, it is an otherwise mostly familiar film. It borrows elements and does not particularly reinvent the wheel or offer anything I haven’t already seen. That’s okay through, because the elements it does borrow and the parts that feel familiar, I think, are all done very well. It’s all very solid work across the board, and, often, in the genre, that’s enough to make something a standout. So often we have films that do a lot of things pretty well, but always make one really bad decision or have some glaring inconsistency, and this film doesn’t do that.

The Boy Behind the Door takes a simple premise and a small budget and through strong direction and production, benefited by a powerful young lead, creates a good film I would recommend to anyone as another hit in Shudders catalog.

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