The summer season of Shudder Original movies appearing roughly weekly on horror streaming service Shudder has thrown up some winners and some stinkers but, given the amount of new talent at work, it was only a matter of time before they knocked one out of the park. And with the practically flawless The Boy Behind The Door – out this week – they’ve delivered something special: a thriller that’s so tense it pretty much hurts to watch it.
Aficionados will spot overt and knowing visual references to Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, Rob Reiner’s Misery and John Carpenter’s Halloween in The Boy Behind The Door, but as much as directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell pay tribute to the movies that set the standard and the conventions of horror movies, it subverts many too. Abduction movies are hardly scarce, but whether they’re caring, like Room (2015), fact-based, like The Girl In The Basement (2021) or played for cheap thrills, like Split (2016), the captive tends to be one or more teenage girls. In The Boy Behind The Door, the abducted parties are two boys, Bobby (13-year-old Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey, a baby-faced 15), who are caught while playing baseball in the park and taken to a remote property. There, Bobby quickly escapes but Kevin is chained up and locked in a room.
The subject matter of the film is repulsive. We’re left in no doubt that sickening child abuse takes place in this house, not least when Bobby discovers a room with teddies and a video camera in it. The kids understand this too, being old enough to know the danger of the situation they’re in, even if they’re not old enough to remember how to use a landline when Bobby finds an old moving-dial telephone. In fact, the film’s masterstroke is to view everything from the point of view and perspective of those children.
There are no parents to be found in the film, and in that sense, it’s like a Grimm Fairytale, a twisted perversion of reality in which adults are either absent, negligent or malevolent. It has the sense of dread of a childhood nightmare – you’ll find yourself remembering that feeling of being a little kid and losing your parent in a supermarket or on the street, and suddenly being aware of how vulnerable you are.
But actually, Bobby is a toughie, and the bond he has with Kevin motivates him to extraordinary acts of braveness. The two boys aren’t cognisant of the cliches of horror films, meaning they make some of the usual shout-at-the-screen mistakes and pleasingly avoid others. But you can’t escape the fact that you’re watching two children attempting to escape the clutches of child abusers, and as much as it’s thrilling, it’s deeply disturbing, too. Perhaps mindful of this, the makers have chosen to give the movie an airport novel-inspired title, hinting at the relatively innocent shores of The Girl On The Train (2016) or, as recently as 2021, The Woman In The Window. This one is different – undeniably brilliant and a work of real craft, but very difficult to watch.
- Director: David Charbonier and Justin Powell
- Starring: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer Van Straten, Scott Michael Foster
- Release date: July 29 (on Shudder)