A film that debuted a year ago at Fantastic Fest is finally making its way to Shudder this week, but in that year, co-writers/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell have already put out another film, the highly effective The Djinn, starring one of the young actors from this current release, The Boy Behind the Door. The truly promising filmmakers have a sense of how to make horror films featuring kids in peril without making it seem unnecessarily exploitative, although The Boy Behind the Door may seem closer to that edge than The Djinn.
The Boy features Lonnie Chayis (This Is Us, The Waterman) and The Djinn star Ezra Dewey as best friends Bobby and Kevin, respectively, who are out warming up, tossing the ball around before they have to be at their next baseball game. But when the ball rolls down a hill, Kevin goes after it and never comes back. Bobby eventually goes down after him, and he too is abducted and thrown into a trunk with Kevin. When the car they’re in arrives at its destination, Kevin is pulled from the car, leaving Bobby alone to try to cut his bindings loose and kick his way out of the trunk, both of which he manages to do.
Not knowing where he is or what to do, he sneaks into the house where the car is parked and discovers a lone man (Micah Hauptman, credited as “The Creep”) moving around his darkened house, unaware that this young boy is moving silently from room to room trying to find out where his friend is. Every step of his search is fraught with tension; some rooms require a key, so the search for keys, weapons, or anything that tells him where Kevin is being kept begins. Eventually, The Creep discovers his unwanted guest, and the two have a confrontation that doesn’t end well for one of them. And that’s all before we meet the real villain of the film, Ms. Burton (Kristin Bauer van Straten, from True Blood), who has no issue informing Bobby that because he’s black, there isn’t usually much call for kids that look like him among her clients, but because he’s a fighter, those same clients might pay extra for him.
Thankfully, The Boy Behind the Door never gets into any of the sordid details about what goes on with these boys, allowing our minds to conjure the worst possible scenarios. The film does a decent job showing how a young, fairly slight kid might be able to best those older and bigger than him in ways I feel are believable. But the far more moving part of the movie is about watching these two friends do their best to look out for each other. When Bobby hears Kevin’s screams in the house, he’s driven to find him in this nightmare dwelling because he can’t imagine living without his best buddy, and there’s something really sweet and authentic about the way Chavis, in particular, plays that.
The Boy Behind the Door never stops moving, so it works better as a thriller than as a blood-and-guts horror offering. Bobby’s skills at hiding, anticipating, and making a weapon out of the simplest objects are impressive. And when he gets his hands on a knife, look out. The baddies here are perhaps a little too cliche and one-dimensional (especially compared to the children), but Van Straten gets in a few great, nasty quips. All things equal, I still think The Djinn is the better movie, but the friendship aspect of this movie makes it a more purely emotional exercise and certainly allows us to care about these kids every step of their very long, terrifying day.
The film begins streaming July 29 on Shudder.
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