The Boy Behind The Door

****

Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

The Boy Behind The Door
"Things here don't work the way they do in most action movies. People get tired. Wounds keep hurting. Sometimes Bobby taken on tasks that prove too much for him."

Have you ever watched those television programmes in which adults try to solve puzzles and obstacle courses and wonder what the inept contestants did in childhood? For a lot of kids, such activities are part of a normal day's activities. They're constantly learning so they have to stay sharp and keep making an effort when something seems impossible. They keep encountering unfamiliar situations so they have to be brave. Running, jumping, climbing, crawling, sneaking - all these things are part of games. Adult predators see children as easy targets because they're small and naïve, but sometimes, David Charbonier and Justin Powell's film suggests, they're going to get a surprise.

We meet Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) in one of those golden-lit meadows that are a mainstay of cinematic childhood memories. They run and laugh, playing with a cricket ball, and sit together, swinging their feet, vowing to be best friends forever. Kevin, however, is dissatisfied. He wants to go somewhere else, anywhere; he's anxious for adult life to begin. When he vanishes, Bobby wanders, calling for him; then something hits him across the back of the head and childhood is over.

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Kevin is the first to be taken up into the house. His paler skin makes him a more valuable prize. Left alone in a car boot, Bobby fights. Breaks the tape on his wrists. Kicks his way out. They've been taken somewhere unfamiliar, but it's pretty clear which way to go to find habitation, so he could run. The thing is, he can't bring himself to leave Kevin to his fate. So he breaks into the house and a dangerous game of cat and mouse begins.

Chavis is an inspired casting choice. He gives us a hero who is vulnerable and emotional but capable of exercising impressive control. If you get frustrated watching characters screw up in situations like this, never fear: Bobby is smart and competent and comes up with things that even dedicated horror and thriller fans may not think of. He knows exactly what his limits are and works within them. Unable to use force as an adult might - even a surprise attack would be risky - he has to be a lot more cunning. The only times he hesitates are when situations are morally disconcerting or emotionally overwhelming.

Kevin, by contrast, spends much of the film in panic mode. It's unclear what exactly happens to him before Bobby interrupts proceedings, with neither boy wanting to talk about it, but he's a savvy enough kid to understand why he's been taken there. The film is careful not to objectify its young protagonists. At one point Bobby finds disturbing photographs but what the viewer sees is very limited; we understand the rest from the expression on his face. Parts of what we see, especially of the boys' captor, are blurred in a way consistent with how many victims remember trauma, blotting out what is most distressing. Here the camera is used masterfully, always at the boys' height, picking up on details which might not stand out in a normal situation but which speak to how Bobby is assessing his environment and working out his options, sharply alert despite that limited focus.

Things here don't work the way they do in most action movies. People get tired. Wounds keep hurting. Sometimes Bobby takes on tasks that prove too much for him. In one scene, he needs Kevin's help to figure out how to use a rotary dial telephone, as he's never seen one before. The young actors' naturalistic work draws the viewer into their plight and makes this compelling viewing. Long stretches have little to no dialogue but plenty to keep your eyes fixed on the screen. It's a simple concept, well executed, and it signals the arrival of some impressive new talent both in front of and behind the camera.

Reviewed on: 23 Jul 2021
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When two boys are kidnapped, one manages to escape, but he's determined not to abandon his friend.

Director: David Charbonier, Justin Powell

Writer: David Charbonier, Justin Powell

Starring: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Scott Michael Foster, Micah Hauptman

Year: 2020

Runtime: 88 minutes

Country: US

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