Published:  01:57 AM, 31 July 2021

The Boy Behind the Door walks a tricky line

The Boy Behind the Door walks a tricky line

Here is an example of a rare phenomenon: a film in which children are the heroes that is not a children's film on any level. In fact, David Charbonier and Justin Powell's tightly confined and well-marshalled slasher-thriller walks a fine line: not only does it subject its two tween leads to multiple "scenes of threat", but - and this is genuinely unusual - it shows tangible bodily harm being inflicted on them with enough frequency to make this a rather dismaying watch. Its best-friends-for-ever message is barely enough to keep the film on the right side of palatable.

Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) - 12 or 13 years old - are living their best lives, dreaming of California and getting in some baseball practice, when both of them are abducted and bundled into a car boot. Kevin is removed first, leaving Bobby to force his way out; he emerges in the garage of a remote and dingy house. He's about to run for his life when he remembers their pledge - "Friends until the end" - so he does a 180° turn. Tiptoeing around the evil babysitter holding them hostage, he locates a whimpering Kevin in a locked room on the upper storey.

There is something discreetly radical about making Bobby, who is black, the active and resourceful protagonist in defence of his mixed-race friend. The kidnappers - with a Maga sticker on their car, and whose creepy mansion is surrounded by gothic oil derricks - belong to an older US. As Bobby blends into dark corners and searches for keys, like some child abuse-themed escape room, Charbonier and Powell don't have too much difficulty keeping tension levels in the red. Logic is sometimes stretched, though: it is surely not plausible that Bobby would try to clean a huge bloodstain in the couple of minutes before he knows he will be interrupted.

The opening half-hour, including the chilling first moments in the house, are filmed with a great emotional clarity. But this lucid style gets subordinated to the pragmatic needs of the cat-and-mouse scenario - to the point where Charbonier and Powell lift/homage The Shining's most celebrated shot. In the end this is a fundamentally genre-subservient film, staying within the safe lines that absolves it from getting close to the true horrors it hints at. The Boy Behind the Door was made available on Shudder on Thursday.

---By the Guardian

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