If you don’t like movies that give you anxiety, or stories that put children in danger, you’re going to want to stay a safe distance away from The Boy Behind The Door. Co-written and co-directed by Justin Powell & David Charbonier, the kinder-trauma thriller celebrated its world premiere at Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020, upending the comfort and safety of every viewer’s quiet night in.
I’ll be the first to admit that movies carried by child actors are not a draw for me but, credit where credit is due, Lonnie Chavis (This is Us) and Ezra Dewey (Criminal Minds) deliver nailbiting performances as best friends kidnapped by a sadistic monster for profit and pain. As one of the boys explains to the other, “the worst thing that could have happened to us already happened” and that is exactly where this story kicks off. There’s no long lead up of a stranger following the boys. No one shakes off a weird feeling or dismisses stranger-danger. The boys are simply gone in an instant one day after baseball practice. From there it’s a one-night-in-hell struggle for survival against predators straight out of every parent’s nightmares.
Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) wakes up in the truck of a stranger’s car with no sign of his friend Kevin (Ezra Dewey). He manages to break out of the trunk undetected but just as Bobby is making his escape, he hears Kevin‘s cries for help from inside the kidnapper’s house. Unable to leave his friend behind, Bobby sneaks into the house to rescue Kevin and take them both to safety. Easier said than done, obviously. Bobby is unprepared and unequipped but he fights through his tears and stalks his way through the house. It isn’t long before he’s seen but Bobby doesn’t know that there’s more than one big bad wolf breathing down their necks and it’s only a matter of time before his luck runs out and the boys become two more faces on the news that are never seen again.
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What’s even more sinister is that you realize pretty quickly just why Bobby has been able to move around undetected for so long. His kidnapper never expected him to escape the truck he was locked inside, assuming instead that he would suffocate and disappear forever. Kevin, on the other hand, narrowly escapes certain death (for the time being) at the hands of a pedophile thanks to Bobby but they’re still stuck in the middle of nowhere with no neighbor to run to for miles. Writers/directors Justin Powell and David Charbonier create several ticking-clock scenarios that multiply tension at every turn. Like I was watching these kids on cctv, I was rooting for them to just make it to a phone, to just make it out the door, to just hide for another few minutes until help arrived. I would have been on my feet yelling at the tv if I wasn’t folded up on the couch paralyzed by worry.
The Boy Behind The Door is not a film for the faint of heart. It raised my blood pressure a few hundred points and I don’t even have kids! And so much of that is thanks to some really heavy performances from Chavis and Dewey, as well as Powell & Charbonier’s calculated use of information and perspective. When things aren’t going well, we’re hiding under a bed with Bobby staring up at their kidnapper’s feet as they search the house for a mysterious sound. When we think Bobby’s two steps ahead of the bad guys, the camera drifts over to a nearly finished timer to hint to us that he’s in even more danger than he thought possible. Julián Estrada’s cinematography is an eagle on into teasing the dangers that lay ahead for these boys, and highlighting just how truly powerless they are. Not to mention, recreating some pretty iconic shots from The Shining that might take you out of the moment but helps wring every ounce of helplessness from the scene. Movies as tense as The Boy Behind The Door are perfect for that dark movie theatre experience but let it be known that this movie is just as nerve-racking and stressful on your living room sofa as Don’t Breathe was at your local multiplex.
Justin Powell and David Charbonier’s The Boy Behind The Door celebrated its world premiere at Celebration of Fantastic Fest 2020, the digital edition of Austin, Texas’ premiere genre film festival. Click HERE to follow all of our coverage of the fest, and be sure to let us know how you would dispatch of your kidnapper over on Twitter, in the Nightmare on Film Street Subreddit, and on Facebook in the Horror Movie Fiend Club!