THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR is captivating from start to heart-stopping finish. It’s a dark thriller that immediately forces you to abandon anything that resembles hope before you can blink. In a world that is becoming increasingly more frightening by the day, the weight that rests on the young shoulders of Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) is almost too much to bear. It is hard to watch. As a trigger warning, there are kidnapping and pedophilic themes in this movie, with the finished product being a thrilling cat and mouse game, unlike anything I’ve ever seen. THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR is unafraid even if, for the entire duration of the film, we are.
Bobby and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are best friends. They hang together and play baseball together. The boys are doing what children their age should, sitting out in the woods, enjoying innocence. We join them talking about things that don’t ultimately matter as they discover more about themselves, getting into mischief. Just good harmless fun, not bothering anyone when it all changes in a heartbeat. Kevin disappears out of sight and Bobby used to the antics, thinks it’s just another game of ‘Try and Find Me’ until he feels something is off. In the next moment, we see his head crash against a tree. He comes to in a dark place, bound and terrified for his life. The lights flash and we can make out the place he is being held captive inside the trunk of a car. Separated from his friend, Bobby is faced with his mortality far too young. He’s left looking around hopelessly for anything that might free his hands. The car stops and so does he. In for the fight of his life, Bobby manages to break free and kick open the trunk of the car. He immediately runs free, out into an unrecognizable place. He takes a minute to collect himself and sees a path to his safety. He pauses before making a run for it when he realizes he’s alone and that his best friend Kevin must still be trapped. This is where the movie begins to challenge both Bobby and us in unimaginable ways.
David Charbonier and Justin Powell aren’t afraid to make us uncomfortable. The violence is brutal. The children must fight no different than any movie, dealing with people trying to escape their captors. What makes it most compelling is the faithful portrayal of how children would problem solve. It’s relatable because they don’t make the right moves all of the time. Squirming will happen as Bobby tries to move unnoticed. The tension is turned up to the max on more than a few occasions. Each time you hold your breath right along with him, knowing how close to being caught he is. And because of the subject matter, you never get a sense of knowing what will happen next. If you’re diving into this type of world, filled with this unruly underbelly, there is no guarantee there’s going to be a happy ending.
The camera guides you where it needs you to be. The little clues are placed carefully throughout the film working as a huge puzzle, giving you a clear picture of how devoid of morality the world he finds himself truly is, which leaves you just as terrified to look around that corner like him. The transition between perspectives is spot on. Viewing the house of horrors like Bobby does vs the individuals who are investigating the house, wondering where these strange noises are coming from, is an underrated but much-appreciated angle provided during the movie. There are no wasted aerials or fillers to try and buy time between the action.
The pacing is deliberate, and does an exceptional job showing us how every decision made has its dire consequences. At one point in the film, Bobby makes a decision that you have to question and that’s the beauty of effective filmmaking. Instead of focusing on the fact that he is so young, you see Bobby as a capable person who should do better than he does in spots, trying to send him everything you can to get him and his friend out of there.
The music is flawless. The right amount of moody with a hint of bone-tingling effects when you least expect them hits differently and, at times, moves you in your seat. In other thrillers, the music is used to mask the lack of natural build-up and falls flat. THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR does not suffer from this trick.
With the writing, the music, and the shooting of this film coming together seamlessly, the glue to the entire premise is the acting of Lonnie Chavis. So much depends on how he conveys the terror of being kidnapped and the confusion of where he is. When he hides, you duck. When he holds his breath hoping to stay hidden, you cover your mouth. The detailed and nuanced performance deserves so much credit. He pulls it off and he makes it look easy. The cries, the tension, the emotion of trying your best to keep a promise while not knowing what to do is so well done, it’s hard to imagine most adults with years of acting experience could capture every note precisely how it should be like Chavis. The future is searing hot for him as people discover this movie and cast him as a lead with depth who can take any subject matter.
THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR takes you on a journey that is grueling for the psyche. The limits of what you can handle are tested but the reward of experiencing the entire film is more than worth it. It shines impossibly bright even though it’s one of the darkest thrillers to come out in quite some time. David Charbonier and Justin Powell knocked it out of the park on their first try. I can’t wait to see what else they come up with in the future.
THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR had its world premiere at Celebration of Fantastic Fest on Sunday, September 27, 2020.