I had had this film on my list and was going to ignore it because of its simplistic title, but I’m so glad I didn’t. But also, I almost wish I had.
The Boy Behind the Door, written and directed by then-newcomers (well, they’ve only done one other film since then) Justin Powell and David Charbonier, is one of the most frighteningly tense films I’ve seen in a while, and how it manages to do so with a micro-budget, a single location and two child actors as leads is just astounding. I already can’t wait for what these two will do next.
The story starts off right away: best friends Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are kidnapped (thankfully this is mostly off-screen); Kevin is taken from a car boot into a house Bobby is left to suffocate to death. This is already horrifying. After a good deal of struggle, Bobby is able to undo his restraints and kick the car boot open, and the first thing he does upon falling to the garage floor is cry. And of course he does, because Bobby and Kevin are just pre-teen kids, and they’re terrified. It’s gut-wrenching. Bobby starts to make a break for it but then hears Kevin’s screams and realises he’s inside the house. Remembering their pact to stay ‘friends til the end’, Bobby runs back and slips into the house to try to save his friend.
From there, it’s a genuinely nail-biting cat-and-mouse tale but through the lens of two very scared children facing a strongly implied (but thankfully never shown) hideous threat. I think one of the scariest situations even an adult can be in is waking up somewhere unfamiliar and knowing you’re in danger, and that you have to escape, but you’re in a building you’ve never seen before, you don’t know its layout, you don’t know which floorboards are creaky, and you don’t know how many people there are or where they might be, or how much time you have to escape. This captures that nightmare perfectly.
The dread never lets up for almost the entire run time of the film, and the bursts of violence are gruesome – not least because some of them are inflicted on the kids. The two young actors do a great job (though less so for the flat performances of the elders), and the film never strays from either one’s side, making for a uncomfortably visceral watch. On the technical side, there’s a minor beat that’s spoilt just a few seconds too early by some lighting issues, but this is forgivable as the scene moves quickly enough.
It’s important to mention that Bobby is black and Kevin is white (or white-appearing). This already has implications layered on top of the tension because a black child has entered a white person’s home and the shitty ‘previous guy’ car bumper sticker makes it quite clear what types of bastards these kidnappers are and what area they live in. There are so many reasons why Bobby might not be safe and all of them add up to just pile on the mounting dread.
It might be my propensity to watch something pleasant after something so grisly, but I didn’t find that the film was memorable, but perhaps that’s a blessing. Given the horrific subject matter, it’s difficult to even suggest it without coming off as exploitative. I think we could have done without seeing some of the photos that Bobby finds – seeing his face looking at them tells us this without showing it to us. I don’t think I’ll be watching this again because it’s just so uncomfortable, but it’s elevated enough from its murkiness with the friendship angle that I’d still recommend to others. So, I’m glad I watched it, but I’m also wishing I hadn’t. Perhaps that’s the sign of a great horror movie.