First, let me state that if seeing minors in grave danger isn’t for you, then avoid The Boy Behind the Door. The film is a lot to handle, a nerve-splicing thriller that hits hard from the start and never relents. Nearly every scene has heart-pounding suspense and two incredibly moving performances by Ezra Dewey and Lonnie Chavis, whose characters have their innocence shattered after they’re kidnapped.
Dewey plays Kevin and Chavis plays Bobby. After they’re snatched, they’re taken to an isolated house and nearly sold to a child sex trafficking ring. Written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, who worked with Dewey on this year’s The Djinn, this movie is a tough watch. After an opening scene depicting just how isolated the house is, the camera cuts away to show the friends struggling in the trunk of a car, their mouths duct taped. Then, the narrative shifts to six hours earlier, just before the kids are kidnapped. This flashback is especially effective in establishing their friendship and innocence, as Kevin dreams of moving somewhere warm, like California, and Bobby simply says they should leave, as if he's certain nothing can halt their plans. After they’re captured, Ronnie gets loose and spends a majority of the film trying to save his pal.
Though the violence against Kevin is never explicitly shown, it’s unsettling to hear his cries through the vents, as The Creep (Micah Hauptman) growls and threatens him, demanding that he stop crying. Kevin’s imprisonment includes a chain around his ankle that clanks each time he moves and a shock collar. Further, this is an incredibly atmospheric film, just like The Djinn. Even the opening shots of the natural land are foreboding. The house, meanwhile, evokes pure dread. Every room is dark, and every creak of a floorboard poses unspeakable danger, as Ronnie slinks around in shadows, trying to save his friend and outsmart the captors.
The Creep’s partner, Ms. Burton (Kristin Bauer van Straten), is the real villain and consumes far more screen time. She’s initially never shown fully in frame. Instead, there are shots of her hand or eyeball, as she moves in the shadows, tracking Ronnie. Two specific scenes echo The Shining, and Ms. Burton channels her inner-Jack Torrance as she stalks Ronnie with an ax. Bauer van Straten gives a commanding performance, a purely evil, yet human presence who thinks nothing of inflicting pain upon innocents. I can’t fathom how she got into the mindset to play such a despicable woman, but she certainly excels at it.
That said, the real stars of this film are Dewey and Chavis. The entire premise of this movie had to be a difficult sell, but these kids are so good. Charbonier and Powell spend just enough time establishing Ronnie and Kevin’s friendship and innocence that when we see their terror-stricken faces, we must believe that they’ll somehow survive, even as their situation grows increasingly dire. I can’t wait to see these two actors in more movies.
Powell and Charbonier have proven twice this year that they can create high-tension horror films with a powerful emotional core. Their latest relies on strong performances, atmosphere, and mood far more than jump scares. They’ve also introduced us to Dewey, who, like Chavis, deserves a long career. The Boy Behind the Door is a difficult watch, but it’s also a perfectly executed cat and mouse thriller and a testament to friendship.
The Boy Behind the Door will stream on Shudder starting July 29.
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