THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR Blu-ray | ©2022 RLJE Films

THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR Blu-ray | ©2022 RLJE Films

Rating: Not Rated
Stars: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Scott Michael Foster, Micah Hauptman
Writers: David Charbonier & Justin Powell
Directors: Justin Powell & David Charbonier
Distributor: RLJE Films
Release Date: July 29, 2021 theatrical/Shudder/ March 15, 2022, home video and digital

THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR treads the tightrope of its subject matter remarkably well.

There are actually two preteen boys, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey), in the film. We meet them both bound and gagged in the trunk of a car being driven to an isolated house.

We flash back to six hours earlier. The boys are playing in a field among oil derricks. Kevin declares he’d like to go to California. Bobby says why not: “Friends ‘til the end.”

This statement is put to the test at once. The boys are grabbed separately and knocked unconscious before they can even see their captors.

When the car reaches its destination, Kevin is removed from the car trunk. Bobby is left behind. He frees himself from his bonds, then the trunk, then the garage.

Bobby starts to run, but hears Kevin screaming. So, Bobby returns and finds a way into the isolated house. The place is realistically dilapidated, but constructed like a maze, with potential danger behind every door. Bobby has to avoid the kidnappers, somehow find Kevin, and then get them both past whoever took them.

There isn’t a great deal of dialogue in THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR. If the lines are considered individually, there is nothing explicit in them. Likewise, when we see photos, they are not in themselves graphic.

However, in the context of THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR, what is unspoken and unseen add up to profound real-world horror. Precisely because Bobby and Kevin are so young, the stakes are sky-high from start to finish.

We also innately hate the boys’ abductors. This is one of those movies that invites us to park any moral ambiguity we might feel, well, behind the door. Again, it’s not the villains’ manner that puts us so firmly against them, it’s the framework of their actions. We are all in favor of whatever Bobby can do to them.

At the same time, writers/directors David Charbonier & Justin Powell never make us feel that they as filmmakers are exploiting their young leads. Chavis and Dewey both give powerful, well-nuanced performances. They are called upon to enact fear, grief, and rage, and are sometimes called upon to run or fight, but they are never put in camera compositions where, looking at the meta-work of moviemaking, we’re worried that they are somehow being compromised by our gaze.

Kristin Bauer van Straten and Scott Michael Foster are highly effective as the primary adult characters.

Charbonier & Powell have set themselves a difficult task here: creating a tale that works on a primal level, keeping us invested in the outcome without doing anything that makes us or the filmmakers complicit in the evil propelling the plot.

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