Directors: David Charbonier, Justin Powell
Writers: David Charbonier, Justin Powell
Starring: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey
Duration: 88 mins
BBFC Certification: 15
It doesn’t take long to realise that The Boy Behind the Door is going to be something special. It begins with a languid camera drifting over an industrial landscape where an oil pumpjack nods up and down like a slumbering monster. We then cut to a sunlight woodland, where two boys, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are playing together. They lie down on the forest floor, the camera capturing their young faces through pivoted points of view. They promise, though dialogue that is spare but filled with meaning, to remain friends forever. The performances from Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey are already good enough to make you believe wholeheartedly in this relationship.
Then it all gets ripped apart. The boys are kidnapped, with Bobby waking up locked up in a car boot, suffocating and desperate for air. He manages to escape, but as he runs away from the large red house that looks out over a desolate, empty landscape, he hears Kevin cry out for help. Against all the odds, Bobby decides return to the house to try and rescue his friend.
This in your face opening lasts only five minutes but that is enough to not only suck you hook, line and sinker into the story but to make you realise that director and writer team David Charbonier and Justin Powell might be onto a winner.
What follows over the next ninety minutes is an elaborate, almost Hitchcockian game of cat and mouse that favours tension, atmosphere and dread as much as bloody shocks and thrills. Beyond this, however, The Boy Behind the Door takes a delightful pleasure in subverting genre conventions to keep the audience on their toes and their hearts in their mouths.
The film takes place in a dark and dangerous world that feels sometimes disturbingly real and threatening. Wounds, when they arrive, feel vicious. They linger and continue to cause pain rather than just being forgotten about after five minutes. Charbonoier and Powell are also keen to never let us forget that the film’s protagonists are two young boys. It would be easy to slip into Home Alone mode and make Boddy and Kevin precocious vehicles for the writer’s imagination. Instead, they make painfully believable childish mistakes that only highlights their innocence and serves to make their jeopardy all the more agonising.
Taking place almost entirely in one location doesn’t deter Charbonier and Powell from inventively capturing the action. Using unusual angles and tight, efficient editing, they never let the pace or tension slack for a moment. All of this is anchored by the two standout performances from Chavis and Dewey. Heartbreaking and entirely believable throughout, both of them deliver absolutely remarkable turns that almost never falter. Chavis in particular works wonders in conveying pain, terror and a steely determination in a demanding role with hardly any dialogue.
The film does stumble occasionally. An overtly deliberate homage to The Shining (right down to shots and camera moves) takes you out of the film slightly, a moment where character cleans up some blood feels implausible, while the ending unfortunately reverts to convention when so much before has deliberately attempted to buck expectations. Yet these small faults don’t detract from what is still a superb horror film.
Dark and somber yet with a gently sketched and compassionate look at childhood friendship at its core, The Boy Behind the Door is a toe curling tense cat and mouse nightmare that might well turn out to be one of the year’s best horror films.
The Boy Behind the Door is streaming exclusively on Shudder from the 26th July