The Boy Behind The Door

The Boy Behind The Door (2020)

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Near the beginning of The Boy Behind The Door, two boys are out messing around and practising baseball on an idyllic sunny afternoon, and talking about their future. “Can’t wait till we’re older,” says Kevin (Ezra Dewey), in the film’s first (audible) line, “We can leave this place.”. Kevin dreams that he and Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) will one day go to a beach in California together. The giant grassy field in which they now run, lie and play accentuates their diminutive size in a vast universe, while the idealised shoreline that Bobby visualises (a recurring image in the film) places the boys in a liminal, literally littoral space between the shifting sands and the vast ocean that shapes them. These boys are on the cusp of adulthood, imagining a bigger world beyond, but anxious that it might bring their tight bond to a close. “Promise you won’t go without me, Bobby”, says Kevin, to which Bobby responds, on a note that is tellingly questioning, “Of course – it’s friends to the end, right?”

The Boy Behind The Door

What we, owing to the film’s flash-forward prologue, know – but they do not – is that six hours later these two boys will be bound and gagged in a car’s boot, their innocence violently seized from them. As Bobby gets away but decides to go back for his friend in a big, creaky, old house in the middle of nowhere, the ensuing cat and mouse will involve multiple shifts in perspective from children to adults and from predators to prey, during which, conversely, the boys are privileged to know something that we do not: the identity of their abductor, whom at first only they have seen. Now Bobby must evade notice both of the house’s owner and of the paying client (Micah Hauptman) who has come visiting the manacled Kevin, even as Bobby must also work out where exactly Kevin is and how to release him. In this claustrophobic, deeply tense scenario, as two ill-equipped, inexperienced pre-adolescents must take on hulking, malevolent grown-ups, the boys’ earlier mutual promise to stay with each other to the end begins to assume an existential, doom-laden resonance. Meanwhile, the film never lets us forget that Kevin and Bobby are just boys, horrified not just by what is happening to them, but also by what they themselves must do to survive. This is the harshest, cruellest coming of age.

The Boy Behind The Door

There is a scene, a long way into Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining (1980), where bad dad Jack Torrance (Jack Nicholson), having been locked by his terrified wife into a food pantry, is released by one of the ghostly presences in the Overlook Hotel. It is a crucial moment where what might have been regarded as a merely psychological (albeit hallucinatory) story of one man’s cabin fever and mental breakdown unambiguously shifts into the terrain of the supernatural. The Boy Behind The Door contains several very specific visual references to The Shining, and like Kubrick’s film, repeatedly shows a young boy being menaced and pursued by an abusive, violent adult (with axe included). Yet what distinguishes writer/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s feature debut is its steadfast eschewal of anything ghostly or paranormal to soften the blow of raw human evil. Here the monsters and giants are entirely real – ensuring that, as Bobby and Kevin struggle to get out of their tight spot in one piece, this boys’ own adventure is a dark, harrowing watch.  

Summary: David Charbonier and Justin Powell have crafted a cruel coming-of-age cat-and-mouse thriller, as young boys’ innocence meets unspeakable adult experience

Anton Bitel