WARNING: The following interview contains minor spoilers for The Boy Behind the Door, which is available on Shudder now.
From writer/director team David Charbonier and Justin Powell, The Boy Behind the Door spotlights the power of childhood friendship within a suspenseful cat-and-mouse scenario. The film follows Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey), best friends who have their days upended when two unknown assailants kidnap them. Although Bobby initially gets aways, he can't bear to leave his friend behind. His noble mission sends him back into the house, where he must contend with the evil that lurks within and save his friend from it.
In an interview with CBR, Charbonier and Powell discussed their tense Stephen King-inspired
door takedown, working with child actors, and the importance of the film's big twist.
CBR: How did you come up with the premise for The Boy Behind the Door?
Justin Powell: We love horror and thrillers. It's one of the things that we bonded over the most growing up. We especially love kids in peril in horror movies. We always knew that we wanted to craft a story that was really centered on these two boys and this inseparable friendship. And so everything kind of grew out of that theme essentially, and we kind of built the backdrop out of that. We didn't necessarily know originally that we were going to explore this darker world of child trafficking, but we did know that we wanted to build whatever our story was out of these themes of hope and friendship.
I noticed a nice homage to The Shining and maybe a less obvious one to Misery. Was Stephen King's work an inspiration for the film?
David Charbonier: As Justin said, we are big fans of the horror genre, and there's no escaping that Stephen King is just one of the masters of horror. So we are just the biggest fans of his and his stories. He's just incredible, really. We didn't write the axing of the door scene down thinking that it would have been an homage. But when you're in the space and your shot listing it, we really thought what would be the coolest way to do this. We work really close with our DP on trying to come up with interesting angles or just keep things fresh because you know we're in the house so long it can easily become monotonous. And we're like, "Well, obviously, The Shining had the best, most memorable axe scene. Why don't we pay our respects to one of the masters?"
So, we definitely did use him as a big inspiration for that scene. It's a very strong homage. I definitely think moving forward, we wouldn't do an homage like that ever again because some people don't like it. But we're big fans of his, and if he ever sees the movie, hopefully, he also sees it that way.
One thing I really loved was seeing a Black child lead. The People Under the Stairs and The Girl with All the Gifts come to mind, but horror is especially infamous for not having many Black protagonists, never mind a child. Was having a Black lead always part of the plan, or did that occur after auditions?
Powell: It occurred before auditions. It wasn't always the plan in terms of writing it; that wasn't necessarily what our vision was. We weren't like, "Okay, this is definitely going to be a Black protagonist." But David and I are really keen on diversity and inclusivity in our stories, and it felt very appropriate for this. Then we kind of started leaning into our own dynamic as friends and wanted to bring that out on screen a little bit more. We definitely wanted to have some real representation.
Fortunately, we have this amazing casting director Amy Lippens, and when we started talking to her about that, she just immediately came up with the idea of Lonnie [Chavis] from This Is Us
. We were like, "Oh my God! Yeah, we love him." So, we didn't even audition him. We went out to him specifically, being like, "We want you for the role." And fortunately, he and his mom really connected to the story and thought it was a really powerful tale to tell.
The Boy Behind the Door - The Shining homage
That leads me to my next question, which you already answered about Lonnie, but Ezra Dewey was amazing too. How did you know he was the right fit for the part?
Charbonier: He came in very early during the audition process. Amy had him come in -- and we can't sing enough praises for Amy. We call her Amazing Amy. But she brought him in very early, and even though we had seen so many really talented kids, we just sort of knew right away like, "Wow!" He really has something special, just this authenticity. He just felt so real. And then when we had him and Lonnie come together for a chemistry read, you could just see like, "Okay. These guys look like they could be best friends. They get along great." They just look really good together visually. They match in a way, so it was just perfect casting for us. We couldn't have thought of two better kids to bring these two characters to life.
Powell: Quick fun fact. We auditioned [Ezra] for The Boy Behind the Door before we shot The Djinn, so we actually got Ezra from the casting process for The Boy Behind the Door. Once The Boy Behind the Door got pushed to the next year, we were like, "Oh my God. Well, we just met this amazing kid Ezra." We were shooting a movie this year, and we ended up shooting The Djinn instead of The Boy Behind the Door. That is how that ended up going, so it was a really fortunate series of events in a weird way.
What was it like working with kids, especially on a film that deals with intense, heavy themes like murder and kidnapping?
Powell: In terms of working with them as directors and actors, that was really pretty straightforward and simple because they are such strong performers. They just nail everything right away, and they need very little direction. We were always concerned about how we would handle talking to them about any subject matter, but we really resolved to let their parents handle that, and we would just talk mostly about how you guys are in a situation where there's a bad guy, and you're running away from them. We just kept it very, very simple. It was actually a very fun set, especially for them because they were running around playing all the time. We were the ones that were super stressed out. So in between takes, they were playing with little dart guns, and it was a good time. I think the biggest hurdle was just the hours with them. But beyond that, they're such amazing actors.
As a woman myself, I thought it really says a lot about us as a society that most people would never expect a woman to be doing this type of crime. How did you come up with that big twist?
Charbonier: That was also something we noticed that it was something that people in society probably wouldn't expect. I remember when Lonnie's mom read the script, one of the things that they really responded to was that it was a woman kidnapper. Evil comes in many forms. I think if we wanted to say anything, it was really about that. Sometimes someone might look innocent or disarming, but you never really know where evil lies or what it looks like.
We do believe in equality [laughs]. So, why couldn't it be a woman? I think there's the stereotype that women are more nurturing -- and they probably are more nurturing -- but anyone can do harm to someone. We also really love strong female characters, so even though she's evil, she's a very fun character for us. We had a lot of fun writing her, and we had so much fun working with Kristin [Bauer van Straten]. She just went all out and really gave it her all and brought such evil fun. I think Kristen calls it "deliciously evil." We just love that.
I really enjoyed that The Bride of Frankenstein was playing in the background. I'm assuming it was meant to be a little hint that says, "Hey, the villain's actually a woman." How did you settle on that film?
Powell: You're correct! It is like a nice little hint. It's not in the script. In the script, it was very vague because we knew this was a lower-budget movie, and we didn't know what kind of background TV we would actually be able to have. And sure enough, when we got into post with our budget, we were very limited on what we could put there. We were just trying to stay vigilant about figuring out what media we could use that fit thematically and would also kind of hint at things without giving anything away. I think we had to change a couple of the TV bits earlier on. I can't remember what we're going to use, but there were some other things that we just couldn't get the rights to, but we got that one, so I'm really glad that you caught on to that.
What were some of the positives and challenges of making The Boy Behind the Door a one-set movie?
Charbonier: I think one of the positives is that you have everything there. You don't have to worry about moving your production, and you can really feel out the space. Once we had landed on the location, Justin and I did a rewrite of the script. We sort of read through the script with the layout and the floor plan of the location we had. And that was really fun for us because it actually allowed us to see some sequences that maybe we couldn't do. It also actually allowed us to come up with new sequences because this hallway connects to this room, and maybe they go through this way or the kidnapper comes up through that way.
So for us, we really love working in a real practical location and using the actual architecture that exists. That's just really helpful for us visually. The challenging thing was this specific location had a lot of restrictions because it is actually on an oil field. So there were a lot of fire hazard things. We couldn't have an open flame. We had one scene where Lonnie had a lighter, and we had to lose that early on. They wouldn't allow people to walk down the driveway, so we had another sequence where they actually drive the car down the driveway and then we had to change that last minute. They didn't let us wallpaper the walls. We had to use temporary tape, and it would come down every single day and cost our production design team hours and hours of extra work. Not to keep shitting on the property; we're really happy we found one, but it's definitely a lot easier if you have an easier-going property when you're working on something.
Do you each want to shout out a scene that you're most excited for the audience to see?
Powell: I'll let David have his own because I know what his favorite is. The scene that I personally really love is the scene with the boys and the phone. I guess without fully spoiling that -- I just loved that sequence. I always loved it in the scripts, and I thought that Lonnie and Ezra just nailed it. You really feel their sense of childhood innocence [laughs]. They executed that from page to screen just perfectly.
Charbonier: I also really love that scene. My favorite scene involves Kristen and a pair of garden clippers. Her reaction -- I just kind of crack up every time I think about it [laughs].
The Boy Behind the Door is now streaming exclusively on Shudder.