Welcome to sex. The Boy behind the Door is the sort of film that a Freudian shrink could go to town on, being all about two boys cusping puberty who are abducted and taken to a remote property where they have to fight for their lives to get free.
“Friends to the end,” Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) have pledged out in the bright, sun-dappled world where they were hanging out before being knocked senseless and bundled into the boot of a car. Waking up, Bobby is dimly aware that Kevin has been dragged off somewhere, leaving him to suffocate out in a garage attached to a house a long way from friendly earshot.
Within minutes, by sustained effort, Bobby has freed himself. He immediately scarpers, but then almost as immediately circles back to the house, determined to free “friend to the end” Kevin, who is somewhere within.
Doesn’t Bobby have a phone? Why doesn’t he run for help? Is this really the best course of action? The questions start to mount.
Inside, the house is large and dark, nicely realised with no lights burning, just the glow from the TV, Bobby creeps about in silhouette, barely visible while a cacophony of sound roars around him. Coffee pots shriek, car engines growl and the soundtrack, taking its cue from a nodding donkey pumping oil outside, clanks and whirrs and thumps, like a heart beating too fast.
The boys have been abducted, it comes as no real surprise to learn, by people interested in selling them for sex. For a snuff movie, it’s hinted at one point, though the actual motivation of the abductors is never explicit. If sex is up there as a story point, it lurks as a psychological thematic motif, too, and as Kevin blunders about in the dark trying to achieve release, not really knowing what he’s doing, occasionally blurting out an apology for some hasty move – like accidentally stabbing one of the perps (Bobby is a well mannered kid) – it’s tempting to read the whole movie as an allegory of a first sexual encounter.
There’s enough surface to keep things interesting, though, if half-assed interpretation isn’t your thing. Believeable touches, like Bobby jumping into the abductors’ car at one point to get help, in spite of the fact that he can’t drive. In “the movies” when someone says they can’t drive, they’re usually two crunchy gear changes from mastering it completely. Here, Bobby really can’t drive. Later, when he finds an old phone with a cord in a corner of the house, he’s no idea how to use it, that it needs to be plugged in, even. Kids today.
One boy chained to a bed, the other creeping around a dark house trying to free him, two abductors, the identity of one of them a bit of a shock. Bobby’s victories start to mount up. He’s resourceful, though outgunned. Imagine Home Alone with the lights turned off.
Directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell have given their debut feature a graphic novel aspect, with skewed angles, strong compositions, lurid lighting here and there doing a lot of the menacing. Even though there’s plenty of hardware in this film – a gun, an axe, a big knife, a neck brace that delivers electric shocks, a manacle – this is a mood piece first and foremost not a torture-porn outlier.
It does a few things it probably shouldn’t in the interest of getting the story to the next necessary bit. Like the moment where Bobby has to clean up a big pool of blood from the kitchen floor so one of the bad guys doesn’t discover what’s happened to the other bad guy. If only kitchen cleaning materials were really that absorbent. And there are, especially as things move into the increasingly frenzied climax, a few instances of the bad guy just being a bit too slow on the uptake for someone who’s at extreme risk of having their child-abduction racket exposed. And you know that “baddies can’t shoot straight” thing that happens “only in the movies”? Bit of that too.
So psychologically The Boy behind the Door doesn’t always add up, but the cast are good, the atmosphere is thickly applied and its weaknesses are familiar genre weaknesses you’ll possibly embrace like an old friend.
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© Steve Morrissey 2021