The Boy Behind the Door

On their way home from after school baseball, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis, 'This Is Us's' 12 year-old Randall) and Kevin ("The Djinn's" Ezra Dewey) declare themselves ‘Friends til the end,’ but when the two are abducted and only Bobby manages to free himself, that sentiment will be proven under the most dire circumstances as the brave little boy tries to get to “The Boy Behind the Door.”

Laura's Review: C+

Premiering on the Shudder channel after a VOD run last fall, "The Djinn" writer/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s first feature is a frustrating mix of strong child performances in an above average production with the type of dumb moves from both victims and perpetrators that artificially keeps undercooked horror plots cranking along.  It is interesting to note that the filmmakers dialed down the scope of their location for their second film, which featured both a solid performance from Dewey and a stronger narrative. 

The film opens with an atmospheric shot from cinematographer Julián Estrada ("The Djinn") of a sedan boasting South Dakota plates and a MAGA bumper sticker making its way along a twisty road to a forbidding brick home atop a hill, an oil rig churning in the background.  The car’s trunk is opened to reveal two terrified young boys, their mouths covered with duct tape.  (The boys, one black and one white, perhaps reflect the filmmakers themselves.)

After a jog back and toggle forward, we witness Bobby kick his way out of that trunk, making his way outside only to hear Kevin’s anguished screams coming from upstairs within the house.  Bobby barely hesitates, breaking a basement window to let himself inside (one of the first perplexing things about this film is how brazenly Bobby moves about the house).  Soon the kid’s made it to an upstairs room, where he can hear a man talking to Kevin through a register, but when he knocks over a glass paperweight, he’ll find himself face to face with a kidnapper (Micah Hauptman, "Rust Creek").

Bobby will go toe to toe not only with this man, but a far more sinister adversary (Kristin Bauer van Straten, HBO's 'True Blood') later on.  In the interim, he’ll find an old rotary phone and manage to connect it long enough to get a call through to 911 that will bring Officer Steward (Scott Michael Foster, TV's 'Crazy Ex-Girlfriend') to the door.  He’ll also witness evidence of just what’s been going on in this house and it brings tears to his eyes, further evidence provided by Kevin’s traumatized state when he finally makes it to his friend’s side.

The filmmakers keep turning the screws throughout, production designer Ryan Brett Puckett turning the house and its grounds into their own foreboding character, but “The Boy Behind the Door” is the type of film that will have you screaming suggestions to Bobby that he refuses to take (The operator needs him to stay on the line longer than is safe?  Leave the phone off the hook!  He’s within reach of a tormentor’s ankles and has a butcher knife?  Cut the Achilles tendons!  Warn that nice cop he’s about to be attacked!  Get out to the squad car in front of the house and use its radio!).     While Bobby’s age could account for some of his poorer choices, the second kidnapper’s behavior is so nonsensical she becomes little more than a boogeyman.  With a safe stuffed full of money and dead bodies and more criminal evidence on property more police are sure to arrive at, why not run?  Even sillier, she informs Bobby he didn’t have the right ‘look’ to be taken and was expected to expire in the trunk – why take him in the first place then?  He was nowhere in sight when Kevin, the desired prize, was snatched. To top all this off, she is dispatched in the most predictable, clichéd method imaginable.  “The Boy Behind the Door” looks great, is well acted and has loads of atmosphere, but these screenwriting lapses frustrate.  Still, from this film through their second, Charbonier and Powell are building a noteworthy genre filmography.

Robin's Review: C+

"The Boy Behind the Door" premieres on the Shudder streaming platform on 7/29/21.