Kids in peril form the story for the latest Shudder acquisition, The Boy Behind the Door. The film begins with the kidnapping of two best friends, twelve-year-olds Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey). After their incarceration by their abductors, one of the pair, Bobby, manages to free himself from his restraints. As he creeps around the house trying to evade recapture he realises that Kevin is very much still trapped and vows to do whatever it takes to free his friend trapped behind the door.
The Boy Behind the Door builds up a fierce amount of tension in a very short time, quickly getting the abduction and Bobby’s escape out of the way. Once we’ve pushed through this set-up, it’s time for a taut game of cat and mouse, though it’s one that is told almost exclusively from the vantage point of our mouse, Bobby. It’s an integral move by directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell as it roots the viewer firmly in the situation with the boys. The intensity that is generated is almost unbearable, especially during the opening third of the film. This section plays out in near darkness and almost complete silence. It’s an eerie silence, one that is heavy with dread and despair, and really works at getting the adrenaline pumping. Charbonier and Powell can’t quite keep a firm grip on the potency of the tension for the full run however, and it slowly begins to evaporate once the world opens up to feature one of the captors.
At this juncture we meet the exceptionally wicked Ms. Burton, played to grim perfection by True Blood’s Kristin Bauer van Straten. Having played vampire Pam on True Blood, and Maleficent in Once Upon a Time, Straten is no stranger to the role of villain, but her character here is utterly deplorable. What makes her even more horrific is that we know that people like this do exist in the world, those that prey on the weak; we read about them on an almost daily basis. The real world grounding of Ms. Burton serves to make the audience very uncomfortable and Straten gives a committed performance, delivering despicable words with pure malice and smug satisfaction. As with the tension levels, the part does start to come unstuck towards the end, stumbling a little too far into comedy villain territory.
Both Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey give remarkable and mature performances. Like the characters that they are portraying, both are still young and the ideas and situations that they have to contend with here could overwhelm some, but they manage to keep on going. Their characters, Chavis’ Bobby in particular, seem to live by that Goonies motto of ‘never say die,’ and Bobby goes to extreme lengths to rescue his friend. The powerful bond of the friendship between Bobby and Ezra is so pure that it acts as a sole bright light in what is otherwise a bleak and rather depressing affair. With such dark topics heavily implied, it’s unclear how much either boy understood about what their characters were precisely going through, but each gives a thoroughly believable portrayal of anguish and fear.
The kidnapped trying to escape and evade their abductor is a story that has been told countless times in film. The norm is to tell these tales with adult characters. Occasionally there might be a child alongside the adult, but that young innocent is shielded from much of the darkness. Here though, the young are thrown into the thick of it, and whilst it makes for a new angle on an age-old story, it does begin to feel just a little bit icky. The longer the film goes on, and the more that happens to the friends, the more uncomfortable it becomes for the viewer, and not in a particularly fun way. No one wants to see children subjected to these horrific traumas, and many may find it too tough to continue.
With The Boy Behind the Door slowly collapsing, the longer it goes on for, one can’t help but think that it would make a great idea for a short film. When stretched to this full feature-length film it runs out of steam, and veers into silly villainy, with the kids in extreme peril angle eventually leaving a bitter taste in the mouth. When you cut through it, there is a solid film buried within, heavily helped by some stunning performances and powerful themes, it just sadly is not sustained for the duration.
The Boy Behind the Door will be available exclusively on Shudder from Thursday 29th July 2021.
The Boy Behind the Door
The Boy Behind the Door gets off to a commanding and intensely unnerving start, but eventually peters out. Although this does not overshadow the powerful story, disturbing topics explored, and the brilliant performances of the two young leads.