‘The Boy Behind the Door’ Review: Compact Terror Among Kidnapped Kids
You can’t fault the writing-directing duo of David Charbonier and Justin Powell for reckless overreaching: Their first feature, “The Djinn” (released just 10 weeks ago, though shot in 2018), stirred terror around just one boy in an apartment. Their second, which premiered at Fantastic Fest last fall, cautiously ups the ante to two boys and one whole house. “The Boy Behind the Door” is a more polished affair than its predecessor, with no supernatural aspect to the child endangerment this time. But it’s another effective use of a simple premise and modest means to create a nicely nerve-jangling thriller. Shudder is adding the film to its streaming service July 29.
After a brief, alarming prologue, we properly meet our protagonists in a moment of calm beforehand — two 12-year-old lads playing catch in a field en route to a Little League game. When their ball rolls down an embankment, Kevin (Ezra Dewey, who was also in “Djinn”) goes to retrieve it but does not return. Bobby (Lonnie Chavis from “This Is Us”) eventually goes looking for him, which doesn’t end well for him either. Six hours later, we’re back where we started — with the duo, bound and gagged, in a car trunk, from which only Kevin is removed. Nearly suffocating, Bobby manages to extricate himself and is about to flee when he hears his friend’s cry for help from the secluded house nearby.
The remaining 75 minutes or so are eventful, in action if not plot terms: Bobby breaks into the large, rather featureless abode and tries to escape with Kevin. This will not be easy, because at first he doesn’t know who or what they’re up against, misidentifies his principal foe and upon encountering the (even) worse one, finds them to be a formidable nemesis. The film is almost two-thirds over before we see that villain clearly, with backstory and M.O. never more than vaguely hinted. Suffice it to say there’s something very bad of a human-trafficking ilk going on here, and that Kristin Bauer van Straten of “True Blood” provides a convincingly high threat level (as she did in the sillier recent “Paradise Cove”) despite a sketchily written role.
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Spartan in terms of dialogue, “Door” milks an unadorned basic concept of abducted juvenile peril for all it’s worth, making the young lead characters resourceful within credible bounds. Some may find the child-harm levels breached too vividly unpleasant to be entertaining, though the payback dealt duly satisfies. Regardless, it’s all atmospherically shot by D.P. Julian Amaru Estrada, with some rich lighting hues, a lot of close-ups limning the characters’ restricted perception of their surroundings and occasional distortion effects, particularly when Bobby fights unconsciousness after one altercation.
The child actors are very good, the pacing adept, Anton Sanko’s score judicious. The overall effect is a rock-solid if not quite imaginatively memorable exercise in entrapment peril à la “Don’t Breathe” or Shudder’s own recent add “Caveat.” No matter what Charbonier and Powell do next, you can bet it’s going to have more than a handful of characters or settings — and that they will be able to handle the increased scale just fine.
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