‘The Boy Behind the Door’ Review: Best Friends in Peril

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Bobby and Kevin are bound and gagged in a car trunk. After Kevin is pulled out and whisked away, Bobby is left inside, but he manages to get rid of his restraints and wiggle out. Instead of running for his life, though, Bobby heads toward the sprawling house where Kevin is held prisoner: “Friends til the end,” the buddies had sworn to each other.

You know that promise is going to hold, because 12-year-old boys like these two take these matters seriously.

Bad, bad things happen to Bobby (Lonnie Chavis, Randall on “This Is Us”) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) in the horror-tinged abduction thriller “The Boy Behind the Door.” And, it must be said, for the most part they happen onscreen. This is not common in American releases, where violence toward kids tends to be suggested, metaphorical or cartoonishly abstract. David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s movie steers clear of exploitation, though, because while the camera does not look away from Bobby and Kevin’s woes — there is gore — it does so in a clinical, almost neutral manner that, again, we are not used to seeing applied to children. (Some viewers may find this very detachment distasteful.)

“The Boy Behind the Door,” which is streaming on Shudder, leaves no room for anything besides brutally direct suspense mechanics: Bobby spends the entire movie trying to free Kevin while evading their captors, who include Kristin Bauer van Straten, from “True Blood,” as an opaque embodiment of capricious evil.

We do not know why the two were kidnapped, or what their world is like aside from their playing on a softball team — the movie never cuts to, say, anxious parents. Charbonier and Powell, themselves childhood friends from Detroit, focus on the boys’ allegiance to each other with an unwavering focus.

This intent minimalism is also why the movie does not transcend its virtuosic, almost abstractly taut storytelling. Especially when a couple of puzzling, attention-grabbing flourishes needlessly slip in, most notably a scene that borrows from an ultra-famous one in “The Shining.” And why, exactly, pan over a Make America Great Again bumper sticker on the kidnappers’ car? The real world intrudes on the stylized suspense with a thud rather than a bracing jolt.

The Boy Behind the Door
Not rated. Running time: 1 hour 28 minutes. Watch on Shudder.

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