The Boy Behind the Door, 2021.
Written and Directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell.
Starring Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Scott Michael Foster, and Micah Hauptman.
After Bobby and his best friend Kevin are kidnapped and taken to a strange house in the middle of nowhere, Bobby manages to escape. But as he starts to make a break for it, he hears Kevin’s screams for help and realizes he can’t leave his friend behind.
The writing/directing team of David Charbonier and Justin Powell are undoubtedly efficient in minimalistic thrilling storytelling, proving so once again with their sophomore effort, The Boy Behind the Door. There’s a prologue establishing the tight friendship between Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey, who works with the filmmakers on their other effectively suspenseful release this year, The Djinn), vowing to remain friends until the end and move to California together one day. Daydreaming and fantasizing of better days is suddenly put on hold as the young boys are ambushed and kidnapped by a pair of mysterious strangers (there is a bumper sticker on their car indicating that they were Donald Trump supporters, which is perhaps the biggest clue that these kids are in danger) and brought back to an isolated farmhouse.
Of the two children, Kevin becomes the titular boy behind the door, locked and shackled, whereas Bobby is more fortunate and able to remove his constraints and escape the parked car. However, his conscience won’t allow him to leave his best friend behind, so he courageously sneaks into the home searching for a multitude of things (information on why they were chosen, where Kevin is and eventually how to free him, and how many attackers there are roaming the house). Without saying much (although there’s not really much to say, anyway), The Boy Behind the Door comfortably slips into a reverse Home Alone scenario, a cat and mouse game that the filmmaking duo has shown they are capable of executing with considerable precision.
The direction here is still solid, but this time around, something is left to be desired in terms of characterization and storytelling. The Djinn took a simple premise and elevated it with moments of grounded human drama that resonated and intriguing lore. Here, the only admirable element to latch onto is the undying friendship the boys seem to have, which is also not much to go off in terms of the story. There are hints of sinister activities that the kidnappers use these children for, but David Charbonier and Justin Powell are really only concerned with going from one chase sequence to the next.
While the set pieces themselves have an undeniable aura of claustrophobia and some intensity, it’s also hard not to notice visuals ripped right out of The Shining. Such acknowledgments don’t come across as homage but more like plagiarism as if the filmmakers are unsure how to take their own scenes to the proverbial next level of suspense. Matters aren’t helped by a few clichés, ranging from a heroic police officer instantly dispatched by the psychopaths or an extended climax that is all too predictable, more so hampered by how long it goes on.
The Boy Behind the Door is most engaging when the boys have to work together to fight back and escape, which sometimes consists of putting their brains together to figure out how to work outdated technology such as a landline telephone. There are several tools at their dispense to assist in getting away so long as they think outside the box. It’s a dynamic the directorial duo probably should have played up more. Simultaneously, points have to be awarded for the creeping dread atmosphere and the tensely staged encounters between the abducted and their abductees. The performances from everyone involved (including Micah Hauptman and Kristin Bauer van Straten as the relentless pursuers) are fine, with the filmmakers once again excelling at collaborating with child actors, meaning that we are at least in the corner of these likable and resourceful survivors.
It’s just a shame that there’s no authorship or stamp of its own beyond well-constructed deadly engagements. In many respects, The Boy Behind the Door is the same movie as The Djinn but worse, although that’s still fairly decent and an entertaining way to kill 90 minutes. Let’s just hope David Charbonier and Justin Powell have more tricks up their sleeves besides repeating the same home invasion antics.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Robert Kojder is a member of the Chicago Film Critics Association and the Critics Choice Association. He is also the Flickering Myth Reviews Editor. Check here for new reviews, follow my Twitter or Letterboxd, or email me at MetalGearSolid719@gmail.com