There are some really powerful films out there about kidnapping or missing people. Some of my favorites are Prisoners (2013), Split (2016), The People Under the Stairs (1991), and of course, Taken (2008). While I watch, I often think, if this happened to me, I would be okay. I have a dad who has a particular set of skills and has taught me what I need to do in the unlikely scenario. But what if you are a kid? Usually, the youngest person we see fighting to get away is a teenager. The Boy Behind the Door gives us kidnapping from a child’s point of view. Your reflexes will be quick to judge the children, but once you realize the disadvantages kids have over teens or adults, The Boy Behind the Door becomes a sad and stressful film to watch.
The Boy Behind the Door comes from co-writers and co-directors Justin Powell and David Charbonier. Championed as their feature debut, Powell and Charbonier had their Los Angeles premiere at AFI Fest this week. The film stars Lonnie Chavis (This Is Us, The Water Man) as Bobby, Ezra Dewey (Criminal Minds) as Kevin, and Kristin Bauer Van Straten (True Blood) as one of the kidnappers. The film also features Scott Michael Foster (Crazy Ex-Girlfriend) and Micah Hauptman (Homeland). The film follows Bobby and his best friend, Kevin. The two are kidnapped and taken to a large farmhouse in the middle of nowhere. While the two are separated, Bobby manages to escape. He starts to make a run for it but hears Kevin scream for help. The urge to run is overshadowed by the love for his best friend. He cannot leave him behind. Bobby must find a way to free his friend so they both can escape.
The film has an interesting spin. It is a refreshing point of view, but also dreadful to see the horrors of kidnapping from a kid. They have little muscles, and they are not very knowledgeable about survival skills. As writing goes, the plot has its moments. The story is well structured. While Bobby makes some decent decisions, the majority of his actions are frustrating on-screen. The Boy Behind the Door is one of those movies that people in the audience will yell at, saying, “Don’t go that way,” or simply, “You idiot!” It keeps your attention from the beginning.
The fault in the writing comes from the clear love of horror films and using it as a crutch to move the plot along. There is some serious love for The Shining (1980). There are pivotal scenes that take a slice right of the Kubrick pie. In these moments, the film comes off cliche and second rate. While the setting is overtly rural, the time in which the story takes place is confusing. The film highlights a landline rotary phone, but the kids reference their grandma having one. Meanwhile, the police and cars look like they are from the ’70s. While it didn’t disrupt the overall story, it was a little distracting.
Chavis and Dewey did an outstanding job in The Boy Behind the Door. Chavis had the bulk of the scenes and carried them well. While there were some moments when his inexperience showed, overall, he was great. When Dewey was on screen, it was hard to look away. The emotion he carries in each look punches you right in the chest. The chemistry between the two boys was great. I really believed they were best friends forever. The emotions of fear and anxiety are displayed well by both boys. They draw the audience in with each wince and tear.
While we have seen the emotional range from a charmed life playing catch in the sunshine to running through trees to escape their captors, the two boys keep us all interested in what happens to them. It’s rare to see two children carry such an emotional movie on their own. While I am not emotionally ready to watch This Is Us, I look forward to seeing Chavis and Dewey in more movies. The adults in the story did not do it for me, and that is okay. The film is not about them. I am okay with labeling them as the psycho kidnapper and dodo cop. The audience is not rooting for the adults, they are rooting for the kids.
The editing of this film was fantastic. I am sure this accomplishment stemmed from the fact that before writing and directing this film, Powell worked in the editorial department on many blockbuster hits like The Hunger Games, the Twilight saga, the Divergent series, and La La Land, to name a few. His time in post-production life served him well. The crisp shots, knowing when to cut away, knowing when to stay close, all contribute to a great film. The use of these techniques makes for an emotional and engaging film.
While this film will remind most horror fans of some of their other favorites, it is not a bad start from filmmakers Powell and Charbonier. The child’s point of view is new and exciting. It is a spin audiences are not used to. Look to feel just as uncomfortable as the kids throughout the film. Part of the comforts of quarantine movie watching is you get to talk and scream at the TV as much as you want.