Horror movies with children tend to fall into certain categories. They are either painfully bleak and violent, or they are playful and fun, almost more comedies than horror. The Boy Behind the Door is thankfully, and refreshingly, neither. We meet two boys, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey), outside playing in the sunshine before they join their baseball team for a game. Their ball gets away from them, rolling into a secluded area of woodland. When they look for it, they are both knocked out, their mouths are taped, and they are put in the boot of a car.
When Bobby wakes, he finds himself alone. Trapped in a remote farmhouse with only a few vague landmarks to refer to. From there he must use all his intelligence and resourcefulness to rescue himself and his friend from the people who have kidnapped them.
The Boy Behind the Door is sort of a home invasion movie, but backwards. It takes a different tact to 2016s Don’t Breathe however, in which no-one involved was particularly sympathetic, by making the two boys, Bobby in particular, believable heroes. It avoids the regular pitfalls of horror, and the characters often do exactly what you are shouting at the screen for them to do. They are intelligent too, taking logical approaches to the obstacles in front of them with knowledge you could realistically expect twelve-year-olds to have. This is incredibly satisfying. Lonnie Chavis puts in a fabulously believable performance as Bobby, and Ezra Dewey does too, though he has significantly less to do.
The tension is well realised, and though the boys are incredibly brave, they don’t feel like superheroes. Their fear is real, and their reluctance to carry out violent acts to protect themselves feels right. Underpinning this all is their friendship, and their repeated mantra, “friends till the end”. From older boys this would perhaps seem a little clichéd or soppy, but as they are only twelve it works. Kids are allowed to be a bit dramatic. The bond between them adds some much-needed warmth to what would otherwise be, an incredibly dark story.
Literal darkness is a slight issue however, as Julián Estrada’s cinematography occasionally leans too far into the murky. This makes it difficult to puzzle out what we are seeing. This is more than compensated by the direction from debut film-makers David Charbonier and Justin Powell however, who have managed to knit together a story that happily fills it’s eighty-eight-minute runtime. They are clearly keen film fans, and there are times when this feels like a love-letter to Kubrick’s The Shining in particular. Though the comparison feels a little un-earned, it’s a bold one to make when it’s your first film. It’s also as subtle as a brick (or an axe).
Due to the ongoing pandemic delaying the release of this debut, Charbonier and Powell have a second film released this year, The Djinn. If The Boy Behind the Door this is anything to go by, it’ll be worth a look.
The Boy Behind The Door is available on Shudder from July 29th.