AFI Review: The Boy Behind the Door
Child abduction horror leaves the kids fending for themselves
By Richard Whittaker,
11:43PM, Wed. Oct. 21, 2020
When you're a kid, you should be able to trust adults. And if you can't do that, at least you've got other kids. In modern Gothic thriller The Boy Behind the Door, the transgressions and aggressions of adults mean its young protagonists have to count on each other when they are kidnapped and bundled in the trunk of a car.
Writer/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell leave little doubt, without ever saying so explicitly, why they have been taken: Or rather, why Kevin (Ezra Dewey) was targeted and best friend Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) was dragged along into this nightmare). Trapped in a house in the middle of nowhere, with their abductors unconcerned about what a pair of terrified little boys can do, it's up to Bobby to scurry through the house and save Kevin - and, in turn, maybe for Kevin to save him.
An early act of self-defense shows that the boys are not without some fight, but this is no Home Alone superkid outwitting adults with Looney Tunes tricks. Kevin and Bobby are modern kids (there's a wonderful moment with a telephone that grounds this so perfectly in the now), but they're still kids, desperately trying to get out, refusing to leave each other behind. They are wide-eyed shock and fear personified, and there's no way you won't be rooting for them.
At heart, it's an incredibly simple story of friendship, and how you will do anything for your best friend when you're a kid, before all the nonsense of the world kicks in. When Bobby takes a second to consider his own safety before running back into the ogre's lair, it seals the deal: Yes, this will be a time of terror for them both, but they will be in it together.
The Boy Behind the Door is a perfectly-executed game of cat-and-mouse, twisting the tension in perfect real time. That's a tool, not a gimmick, and only broken with purpose, like in a flashback to the boys in happier times in literal golden fields. Once inside the house of abduction, every moment is cast in cold blues and muted hues. Charbonier and Powell even slide in a subtle bit of political commentary about how all and sundry "others" have been portrayed as the enemy, but America is quite capable of doing evil all on its own, than you very much.
But like every trip into the deep, dark woods of the human soul, there is the light of dawn. The story never has to deal explicitly with the fact that Bobby is Black and Kevin is white, because it doesn't affect their friendship. In the midst of this horror, of facing seemingly impossible odds, of being betrayed by the grown-ups in the room, their bond is a powerful beacon in the shadows of a tense thriller.
The Boy Behind the Door streamed as part of AFI fest, Oct. 15-22. More information at www.fest.afi.com.
Read our Fantastic Fest interview with directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell, Sept. 27.