Rating: 4 out of 5.

Lonnie Chavis proves, without a doubt, than he can carry his own film in the intense and harrowing horror thriller, The Boy Behind the Door. Like Don’t Breathe before it, this film focuses on nail-biting suspense buoyed by exceptional sound design and directorial flourishes. While on surface level it may seem to share DNA with The Shining, The Boy Behind the Door has more nuance and intrigue beyond an axe-wielding maniac pursuing minors. While it is certainly teeming with loving homage to Stanley Kubrick’s classic, lifelong best pals and writer/directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell utilize the toolbelt of their own friendship to make a horror movie with warmth and platonic love at its core.

Two best friends, Kevin (Ezra Dewey) and Bobby (Lonnie Chavis), are playing baseball together in the woods. Kevin vanishes first, and Bobby yells his name puzzlingly. He goes to grab the stray baseball, but Bobby’s head is smashed against the tree by an out-of-frame attacker. The two boys wake up in the back of a trunk—Kevin gets pulled away, leaving Bobby trapped inside. Poor Bobby screams “help, please!” in his shrill frantic little voice. He doesn’t wait for someone to rescue him from captivity; Bobby forces his way out of the trunk and escapes easily. However, as he runs away, Bobby hears Kevin’s cries for help, and realizes he cannot possibly leave him behind.

The dynamic between Bobby and Kevin simply warms your heart, as the two are so inseparable that Bobby is not willing to leave him behind. This speaks volumes as to the way the writers view friendships. Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey are convincing and oh-so-innocent, making you root for their characters from the beginning. Chavis as Bobby really goes to hell and back to rescue Kevin from these sadistic perverts. He is not afraid to fight when necessary, facing all levels of scrapes, bruises, and cuts. Bobby is a performance that shows off both performative range and further promise for Chavis, after both This is Us and The Waterman put him on my radar.

The kidnapper, known only as The Creep (portrayed by Micah Hauptman), is fittingly creepy, though it is his partner in crime, Ms. Burton (Kristin Bauer van Straten) who makes the biggest imprint. The final act sees her pursuing Bobby through the house while wielding an axe—there is a masterful killer POV sequence that adds a touch of sophistication. Kristin Bauer van Straten, who I loved as Pam in HBO’s True Blood, is relentless in her attempts to recapture Bobby, and make sure he doesn’t reach Kevin. One of the most shocking moments involves a severed finger, and it left me entirely gobsmacked. 

The Boy Behind the Door is best for fans of the thriller genre and those who love watching fights for survival. Seeing two young children in peril from their perspective is haunting and grueling. The fear of what could be lurking around each corner, your imagination running wild with the possibilities, is scary and realistic enough without spoon-feeding motivations to the audience. The suspense is palpable, but it is the ties of best friends that make The Boy Behind the Door feel particularly special.

The Boy Behind the Door holds you captive when it debuts exclusively on Shudder on Thursday, July 29th.

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