Horror movies go to great lengths to make us uncomfortable, but they often avoid putting kids in harm’s way.
“The Boy Behind the Door” does precisely that. Twice.
The debut feature from “The Djinn” directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell isn’t exploiting our paternal instincts. Instead, the film allows two preteens to deal with a crisis out of any parent’s worst nightmare.
Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and best buddy Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are out having typical boy fun – including talk of their collective tomorrows – when a stranger abducts the pair. The film has barely started and the genre template is in motion. One of the two lads escapes his captor and is about to flee when he hears the muffled cries of his friend.
He can’t run for freedom. Not yet.
“Door” spikes the tension early and it only lessens a time or two throughout the film. The boys are solid actors, emitting both a palpable bond between them and a child’s sense of being in well over their heads.
Young Bobby has the tougher task, maneuvering around a stranger’s home to rescue his friend without being caught himself. We know little about their captor, and the horrors double when a second adult enters the frame.
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Sexual exploitation becomes an unavoidable theme, although it’s handled with great care considering the genre in play. So why does “Door” frustrate as much as it does? Let’s start with the boys’ decisions, a key factor in any genre film.
These are kids, so audiences can’t expect them to make all the right calls. Still, some are stupefyingly dumb, especially after it’s established these kids have their heads on perfectly straight.
The narrative takes a few odd detours as well, moments that neither flesh out the horrors nor add anything except trimmable fat. And while it’s natural for a horror protagonist to turn his or her back on the dispatched villain, the theme recurs so often here it borders on parody.
Another head scratcher? One of the baddies drives a car with a “Make America Great Again” bumper sticker, a brief visual followed by a talk radio blast of alt-right rage. The moment is fleeting, but it takes you right out of the movie and you don’t return to the thriller for an extended period.
Trump Derangement remains all too real. Wasn’t anyone on the set willing to tell the filmmakers, ‘Not here, not now …’?”
Kristin Bauer van Straten of “True Blood” fame plays her second wackadoodle character following on the heels of her “Paradise Cove” part. Yes, she’s a hissable monster, but up until her character’s emergence the thrills were raw and real. Suddenly, we’ve left that genre behind for a silly slasher template.
It’s jarring and unnecessary, as if the screenwriters threw up their hands at nailing a third act to match the previous two. You’ll never stop rooting for these young lads to save their hides, though.
HiT or Miss: “The Boy Behind the Door” delivers all the requisite thrills, but with a few minor tweaks it could have been a neo-classic.