The Boy Behind the Door follows two 12-year-olds, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey), as they are thrown into a nightlong nightmare after they are abducted while playing in the woods. Kevin is the first to be taken from the car trunk to the mysterious house, leaving Bobby to kick his way out. Running along the roadside, Bobby is almost free until he hears Kevin's cries from within the house, causing him to turn back and fight unimaginable darkness to save his best friend.
The story, as far as horror films go, is nothing too original, as Bobby navigates his way around the shadowy house while dodging the sinister adults which inhabit it. Key to the film, however, is the use of the young boys as protagonists, immediately adding another layer of tension to the proceedings as their disadvantages are repeatedly used against them. Anyone thinking that Bobby and Kevin might be spared the usual horror hero levels of suffering due to their age is entirely mistaken. Frankly, the boys are put through the ringer – one particular moment involving a fingernail will have you clenching your teeth – keeping their fates as unclear as possible until the final moments.
Justin Powell and David Charbonier's debut feature shows a lot of promise for the directing duo who manage to sustain a tightly wound atmosphere throughout. From cinematographer Julian Estrada's opening shots of the foggy woodland and the grim house the boys find themselves trapped in, the sense of bleak foreboding is hard to shake as day turns to night and the house succumbs to the shadows.
Powell and Charbonier wear their horror influences on their sleeves, unfortunately to a fault. There are shades of Misery and The Shining that go so far past homage that they feel like direct lifts from those films – even casual fans of Kubrick's classic will pick up on one scene in particular. The villainy also begins to reach cartoonish characterisation by the film's end, threatening to undercut the horrific situation that, until then, seems all too plausible.
Thankfully, the two central performances from Chavis and Dewey keep the film as grounded as possible. While child performances notoriously vary, both actors more than hold their own against the adults, especially given the dark depths of the film's subject matter. Special mention should go to Chavis in particular, who is tasked with acting out the bulk of the film's physically demanding scenes, hiding, running, and fighting his attackers. Whether he sticks to the horror genre or not, Chavis' career may be one worth keeping an eye on.
As streaming services threaten to overthrow both cinemas and physical media, it's comforting to see companies like Shudder continue to release their original content on the home media market. For its physical release, Shudder have included a spoiler-filled music video and a short blooper reel which only further demonstrates the boys' acting ability. The Boy Behind the Door fits alongside other films in the genre such as Don't Breathe or The People Under the Stairs, and should satisfy those looking for a simple but effective horror/thriller with a dark underbelly.
The Boy Behind The Door is released on Blu-ray, DVD and VOD on May 2nd.