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  Boy Behind the Door, The Cats Vs Mice
Year: 2020
Director: David Charbonier, Justin Powell
Stars: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Scott Michael Foster, Micah Hauptman, Alfredo Tavares
Genre: Horror, ThrillerBuy from Amazon
Rating:  7 (from 1 vote)
Review: Six hours ago, two young friends were enjoying the summer in a field by the woods, practicing their baseball pitches, and fantasising about getting away from this small town and its surroundings, they could head off to California if they were old enough. But their lives are indeed about to dramatically change, and not for the better, for now they are trapped in the back of a car, kidnapped and driven to a remote house on the outskirts of the local oil refinery. Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) remains behind in the trunk, desperately trying to kick open the lid while Kevin (Ezra Dewey) is taken into the house to face unspeakable horror...

The directors don't feel the need to tell us precisely what was to happen to poor little Kevin, but they did not particularly need to, we had seen enough news reports on torture dungeons to fill in the terrible details ourselves. There is only one person who can save him, and that's Bobby who promptly escapes from his bondage to see about either raising the alarm or making a more proactive bid to rescue his best pal, so as this was a thriller with horror elements, it was a combination of the two that he chose, entering the imposing house and skulking around as if this was an escape room or similar game, only the stakes were raised high.

It was a mark of the solid filmmaking of writers and directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell that they included a selection of nasty details to keep the audience on edge, as if child abduction was not shocking enough as it was. Therefore a fingernail is broken off at the quick, a thumb is snipped off leaving it sticking in the bullet wound it was worrying at, but perhaps the most chilling scene had Bobby aghast at a collection of Polaroids taken of Kevin that night: we see his face reacting, but not much of the imagery in a careful indication of how confident the filmmakers were not to go too far. They went far enough to raise the pulse and our concern, of course.

There was, believe it or not, a cheering story behind this pair's debut feature, they had been friends since childhood and Chavis and Dewey were evidently chosen to resemble them as children, rendering this something like a horror picture as envisioned by two chiller-obsessed kids in a "what kind of project could we star in together?" sort of way. When they grew up, the directors moved into film production but had their hearts set on creating their own material, and after shorts, The Boy Behind the Door was very well-received; disturbingly, they even included the plot detail that Charbonier's plot proxy would be worth more than Powell's because of the colour of his skin. Again, for a story that was simplicity itself, this was very well worked out.

Indeed, it resembled a modern fairy tale in places, like a Hansel and Hansel, especially when the big bad is revealed to be a witch, or the modern equivalent of the fable villain, the sex offender. There was an urban myth quality about the narrative - did you hear what happened to the kid down the street?! - that was, after all, the new version of the fairy tale for our society to chew over, though we were never in any doubt that Bobby and Kevin were in dire danger. They are written to bumble through the perils as children would, not seeing what adults would regard as obvious, but on a steep learning curve all the same, and it was undoubtedly suspenseful, though there were times the filmmakers wore those influences a shade too blatantly on their sleeves - all right, we get it, you love The Shining. But if they had not quite found their own voice yet, there was enough strength in what they did provide to make for an economical hour and a half of tension. Music by Anton Sanko.

[THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR - Premieres 29 July 2021 **A Shudder Original Film.]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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