Producers: Rick Rosenthal, Jim Hart, Ryan Scaringe, John Hermann and Ryan Lewis   Directors: David Charbonier and Justin Powell   Screenplay: David Charbonier and Justin Powell   Cast: Lonnie Chavis, Ezra Dewey, Kristin Bauer van Straten, Scott Michael Foster and Micah Hauptman   Distributor: Shudder

Grade: B

Not long ago IFC films released “The Djinn,” a nifty little supernatural thriller that was the sophomore feature by the writing-directing duo of David Charbonier and Justin Powell.  Now Shudder has dug into the archives to locate their debut film, which turns out to be even better. 

The screenplay, like that of “The Djinn,” deals with the theme of child endangerment, which in the wrong hands can be simply repellent.  As before, however, Charbonier and Powell treat it astutely to generate tension rather than disgust. 

“The Boy Behind the Door” begins by depicting in idyllic terms the friendship of two young boys, Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin ( Ezra Dewey).  While returning from a baseball game one afternoon, they’re abducted by a man (Micah Hauptman) who, it’s eventually revealed, intends to sell Kevin on the dark web to purchasers with motives one can only imagine.  He leaves Bobby, who’s deemed less saleable, in the trunk of his car, expecting him to suffocate.

But the kid proves remarkably resourceful.  Freeing himself from the car, he decides not to run away from the remote house but to rescue Kevin, who’s been locked up in an upstairs closet, fitted with an electronic necklace that will shock him if he should he escape and reach the stairs.  Bobby finds Kevin and deals with the man, but then has to face off against a more dangerous opponent, a woman (Kristin Bauer van Straten) determined to complete Kevin’s sale while dealing with Bobby by any means necessary.  Even the arrival of a policeman (Scott Michael Foster) Bobby has been able to summon doesn’t end matters.

Badly handled, “The Boy Behind the Door” could have turned out as either a darkly dumb take on the “Home Alone” formula  or a sadistic kiddie version of “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.”  The fact that it manages to straddle the two extremes and remain a suspenseful, cunning tale of two boys’ ability to outmaneuver their captors is a rather remarkable accomplishment.  (Of course, it must be admitted that neither of the villains is the brightest bulb on the block.)

The picture couldn’t succeed, moreover, without excellent work from Chavis and Dewey, the former doing the heavy lifting in the first half of the film and the latter coming to the fore in the last act.  Chavis, recently seen in David Oyelowo’s “The Water Man,” and Dewey, who went on to star in “The Djinn,” are both superb—a testament to the directors’ skill in drawing the best from child actors. 

The other members of the small cast are just adequate, but the look of the picture is more than that.  Ryan Brett Puckett’s production design is creepily effective, and Julian Amaru Estrada’s cinematography atmospheric, especially in the elegiac opening scenes.  Editor Stephen Boyer brings the film in at a crisp ninety minutes without while allowing the individual scenes to play out without being rushed, and Anton Sanko’s score adds to the mood of menace.

You might compare “The Boy Behind the Door” to Wes Craven’s 1991 “The People Under the Stairs,” and not unfavorably; this is a taut, chilling kidnapping tale told with uncommon finesse.  Taken together with “The Djinn,” it certainly marks Charbonier and Powell as talents to watch.