No exaggeration: The horror thriller The Boy Behind the Door, from the writing and directing team of David Charbonier and Justin Powell, is one of the most tense, gripping films I have seen in ages, and it had me squirming in my seat and shouting advice and encouragement at its young protagonists throughout the film. It’s a sure bet for my list of top 10 horror films of 2020.
Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are best friends, preteen boys who harbor dreams of someday escaping their smalltown existence to go to a sunny place like California together. While tossing a baseball around in the woods, the two are abducted. Bobby escapes from the trunk of the car where he was left to die and starts to run away from the property where they were taken. Then he hears Kevin’s screams and breaks into the kidnapper’s house to try to rescue his friend. That’s all you should know in advance about this white-knuckler, which should have you holding your breath as often as Bobby has to when their kidnapper walks and then stalks around the house.
The Boy Behind the Door runs lean and mean, and Charbonier and Powell wring every bit of suspense possible out of the boys’ plight. They make things uneasy for the boys and viewers to the point just before being unbearable, keeping things on a higher road rather than going for full-on exploitation. This gives the film a constant sense of dread from its early moments, immersing viewers in the film to the point of feeling helpless to aid the boys in escaping their horrific situation.
Chavis and Dewey are both superb in their roles, though Chavis is tasked with carrying the bulk of the film on his shoulders as the potential rescuer, and therefore the main target of the abductor’s ire. He shines doing so, and the terror and confusion from both of these child actors feels palpable. They both handle everything emotional and physical asked of them with aplomb, while showing terrific chemistry in their scenes together.
Charbonier and Powell exhibit dazzling craftsmanship in their feature-length debut, from their stirring use of light and shadow to their realistic-sounding dialogue between the two young friends, to their breathtaking timing with suspense. The Boy Behind the Door is must-see viewing for aficionados of horror and thriller films of all stripes. Learn nothing more about the plot than I have written about here, and expect to chew down a few fingernails when you watch this corker.
The Boy Behind the Door screened as part of Celebration of Fantastic Fest, which ran from September 24–October 1.