When we see gushing near-unanimity on Rotten Tomatoes, we smell a rat. And sure enough, The Boy Behind the Door delivers, at least on that front.
And this isn’t some contrarian posturing, at least if you look at some of the folks corroborating our take on IMDb, yet another in a long line of frustrating disconnect between fancy pants critical approbation and John Q. Public.
And it all starts at the top.
While it’s possible to achieve a cohesive voice with two captains at the helm, at least when it comes to books (we have to believe that, as we are author/collaborators) it’s far more difficult when there are multiple moving parts, like say, in a film production.
The Boy Behind the Door is the brainchild of two directors, David Charbonier and Justin Powell. And while it’s possible to make a decent horror flick by auteur committee, we’ve yet to see it. Sure, you can say that Spielberg took the lead behind the scenes while Tobe Hooper’s name was on the marquee for Poltergeist, but it wasn’t intentionally the work of two going in.
And that’s not to say The Boy Behind the Door is bad, far from it. The first 45 minutes is an exercise in unflinching terror and expectation upending, with two youngsters kidnapped and taken to a rickety old farmhouse, in what’s supposed to be one of the Dakotas, capably portrayed by a remote abode in Culver City, California.
One, played by the simply dynamite Lonnie Chavis of TV’s This is Us, is the more resourceful of the two, trying his best to save his baseball buddy (played by Criminal Minds’ Ezra Dewey). The two kid leads are too good. And the house plays a critical role, much like the one in the Oliver Reed-starrer Burnt Offerings, or of course, House.
And various twists and turns and sideways jolts makes this an interesting one, with a wicked scare – of all things, a fingernail – really paying off.
Unfortunately, with things in high gear, the silliness grinds things to a halt (an antagonist gets their finger lopped off, and instead of bleeding and going into shock, continues to run around like John Carpenter’s The Shape). Also, there’s a shot for shot recreation of the Jack Nicholson door-bursting scene terrorizing Shelley Duval (and shouting out Johnny Carson) in The Shining.
A zoom in of one of the perp’s MAGA license plate and a later racial overturns are perfect examples too how the subtlety and magic, which first worked in the film’s favour, were tossed out the window in favour of typical slasher histrionics, almost out of the WWE’s Attitude Era.
What a shame, as Gordon Ramsay – no stranger to outbursts – might say.
**** (out of 5) for the first half, ** (out of 5) for the second.
Split the difference and don’t treat Rotten Tomatoes as gospel.