CAST: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Scott Michael Foster, Micah Hauptman, Rich Ceraulo Ko, Anna B. Shaffer, Alfredo Tavares
RUNNING TIME: 88 mins
BASICALLY…: Two young boys (Chavis and Dewey) are kidnapped, and must find a way to escape their captors…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
Horror movies don’t always have to revolve around ghosts, or demons, or silent slasher icons; sometimes, they can just be about pure, unadulterated and decisively human evil. That is the driving force behind The Boy Behind The Door, a movie that refreshingly sticks to its grounded roots and focuses solely on the natural terror of an already horrifying situation, which alone makes it a far more intense and – yes – scarier experience than many of the other horror movies out right now.
The Boy Behind The Door starts as two young boys, and best friends, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis, recently seen in director David Oyelowo’s The Water Man) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey), are suddenly kidnapped and transported to a house in the middle of nowhere. Although Kevin is helpless as he is brought into the house by his (yet) unseen captors, Bobby manages to escape and starts to make a run for it – however, his unbreakable bond with his friend compels him to enter the house himself and try to rescue Kevin before either one of them can fall victim to the kidnappers and their terrifying scheme.
Although this is technically not the debut feature of writer-directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell – they had previously filmed another horror called The Dijin back in 2018, which is currently scheduled for a UK release this September – The Boy Behind The Door is a fine way for the duo to introduce themselves to the world. Shunning any hints of supernatural or paranormal phenomena throughout, the filmmakers rely on unfiltered tension and suspense for its scares, which they constantly draw from the dark and gloomy atmosphere they are able to create from the bare-bones house we spend much of the movie inside of. Nearly always draped in darkness, with only the moonlight and staticky television providing most of the lighting, this house has constant dread baked into its walls, behind which there is always something disturbing to behold, whether it’s a safe full of cash and incriminating photos, or an unidentified area where you can pull your fingernail off just from trying to escape into an air duct. It makes for an intense location for a horror film of this magnitude, like it’s a haunted house without the ghosts and where the real ghouls are the mortals running the place.
Even more terrifying than our isolated setting is the unfortunate situation that young Bobby and Kevin are in, and what The Boy Behind The Door does very well is to plant you directly in their shoes to experience every single tear, scream, thumping heartbeat and feeling of absolute terror that they feel. Most of the screen-time is dedicated to Lonnie Chavis’ Bobby while Ezra Dewey’s Kevin is mostly helpless with a chain attached to his foot, and while both young actors do an extremely convincing job of playing scared and defenceless kids caught in this situation, it is Chavis who really comes out strongest, especially when you consider that he actually has some experience with this kind of thing (back in 2016, eight-year-old Chavis was almost abducted outside his own home, though unlike his character in the movie he was able to immediately fight off his captors and alert a neighbour to his presence). You’ll particularly understand the constant stream of tears running down their faces, as well as their near-permanent looks of absolute fright, when you see the creepy and extremely intimidating foes that they have to defend themselves against, who to simply call villains would very much undermine how evil and sinister they can get, lack of crystal-clear motivation be damned. Their calm and oddly presentable manner inspires a whole wave of fear as the movie accelerates towards its final half, and you’re rooting even more for these poor boys to escape with their lives intact.
A couple of on-the-nose instances aside – one of the captors has a “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker on their car which plays non-stop far-right radio, while there is at least one scene that directly lifts from one of the most iconic sequences in The Shining – The Boy Behind The Door is a subtle and confident horror that wisely focuses on the pure evil that is already out there in the world, which can sometimes be far scarier than any fictional ghost or monster. It is by far one of the stronger original films to debut on the horror streamer Shudder, because it actually hones in on something terrifying without adding any unnecessary elements to offset the pure dread (whether it’s supernatural or an overt sense of humour), while also being a well-made, well-acted and incredibly suspenseful movie that really does make you, well, shudder.
SO, TO SUM UP…
The Boy Behind The Door is a terrifying suspense thriller that wisely grounds itself in its realistic horrors instead of succumbing to supernatural elements, instead mining plenty of effective scares from pure atmosphere and some menacing villains which our young protagonists must face off against, in a confident and effective debut (chronologically speaking) from writer-directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell.