FANTASTIC FEST 2020: The Boy Behind The Door

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The Boy Behind the Door

Co-written and directed by David Charbonier and Justin Powell, The Boy Behind the Door offers up a masterclass in tension, the use of darkness, and how to exploit the helplessness of childhood to craft a film that leaves you completely on edge. Having premiered during the Celebration of Fantastic Fest, the virtual alternative to the in-person Fantastic Fest 2020 which was canceled earlier this year, this is a film that hits hard. In the film, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and his best friend Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are kidnapped and taken to a strange house in the middle of nowhere. Quickly, 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 Boy Behind the Door is terrifying. The claustrophobia and containment that Charbonier and Powell use to tell their story propel the way this inverted home invasion story moves. Similar to the critically acclaimed Don’t Breathethis film isn’t about getting in, it’s about getting out. But the catch is that the tasks that would be simple for an adult, such as jumping in a car and driving away, are nearly impossible for the young boys at the mercy of their captors. The film hones in on the powerlessness of children and what happens when the ones with the power to protect choose to harm instead.

The terror in this film comes from asking children to do the things we ask our final girls to do and what happens when they fail. While we root for our protagonist to swing an ax and get their revenge, that sweet cathartic moment is twisted when you ask a child to do that. As Bobby moves through the house, struggling to find a way out with his limited abilities, we’re confronted with how much harder a crisis situation is for a child. And Charbonier and Powell don’t make any of the scenes easy on the viewer. The filmmakers routinely pull the rug out from under you, increasing the emptiness you feel. The Boy Behind the Door taps into base instincts: you want to protect our leads. You want to pick Bobby up and carry him out the door. You want to save Kevin. And yet, at every turn, Charbonier and Powell unsettle you more.

the Boy Behind the Door

That being said, The Boy Behind the Door isn’t a film that ever shows too much or leans on shock value. It walks the fine line of showing the immediate and future danger the boys will be in without ever leaning into some of the darker subject matters too much. We don’t need to see the evil to know it’s there. Instead, the filmmakers let Bobby and Kevin’s friendship take center stage. Their escape isn’t just about them, it’s about how they can save each other.

The Boy Behind the Door highlights the tasks we often ask of our horror heroes to do in any film. It also explores how children react to adult situations they should never be in. Additionally, Charbonier and Powell expertly center Bobby and Kevin in the narrative and never shifts to telling the story of the adults. In the beginning, we see the adults through their eyes. In a Charlie Brown-esque way, the adults are monsters without faces, and when they’re revealed, the subversion of expectations hits hard.

But perhaps the most surprising element of this film is the actors who play the boys, Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey. Both of them carry the film as well as any adult could. Bobby’s determination and fear are highlighted and Chavis’ ability to command a scene and offer up both strength and vulnerability can’t be praised enough. And it’s their chemistry on camera that feels like a real friendship that sells the last act. While their acting in every scene is great, the way they tackle the more physical elements of the film deserves a special call-out as well.

While they are fighting for their lives, they are still children after all and The Boy Behind the Door never loses sight of that. Instead, it has them unmatched in every encounter with their kidnappers. This makes them have to get creative but it also increases the sense of dread. Escape for these kids is hard-won if at all and there isn’t any moment where you think that they’ll be okay.

Overall, The Boy Behind the Door is phenomenal. Full stop. From the actors to the setting and the use of darkness both visually and thematically, this is a film to watch.

The Boy Behind the Door premiered at Fantastic Fest on September 27, 2020.

The Boy Behind the Door
  • 9/10
    Rating - 9/10
9/10

TL;DR

Overall, The Boy Behind the Door is phenomenal. Full stop. From the actors to the setting and the use of darkness both visually and thematically, this is a film to watch.