Quick Picks brings you short reviews of movies available to rent, buy or stream now. This edition features The Return (2020), How to Deter a Robber (2020) and The Boy Behind the Door (2021).
We all love a haunted house tale, right? But, with so many on offer, the quality of these varies significantly as directors seek to offer something new. On the face of it, BJ Vernot’s new movie would appear to fall directly into the traditional haunted house sub-genre. After all, here we have a young man, Roger (Richard Harmon), returning to his family home following the sudden death of his father. Only to be greeted by a mysterious apparition that emanates from the walls and an ocean of repressed memories. However, BJ Vernot’s film is not what it first appears to be, building tension before throwing us a curveball of epic proportions. In fact, much like the recent Ghosts of War, The Return is as much a sci-fi thriller as it is a supernatural tale.
READ MORE: GHOSTS OF WAR
Now, I am not about to ruin the twists The Return brings us in what is primarily an entertaining and solid slice of sci-fi/horror. However, as with all films that attempt to transcend genre boundaries, there are also problems within the final two acts of BJ Vernot’s movie. First is the fact that many will have guessed the narrative trajectory long before the twist. Second is the Ghostbusters inspired device employed by Harman’s Roger as we near our conclusion, which quite frankly is nothing short of ridiculous. And third, we have the death of a prominent character that seems to cause little upset. In fact, it feels utterly redundant in the overarching narrative; perhaps the actor had another job on and needed a quick exit? However, despite these three flaws, there is also much to admire.
The Return builds a sense of tension throughout and remains engaging; much of this, due to Harman’s understated performance. Meanwhile, its unique exploration of science fiction is fascinating if flawed, its final scenes leaving us with a delightful cliffhanger. However, despite these positives, The Return never manages to rise above its place as a Saturday night popcorn flick. But maybe that is what it aimed to be? And if that’s the case, it’s a fun, if largely forgettable, weekend rental option.
The Return is available to rent or buy from the 10th August
How to Deter a Robber
It’s Christmas Eve, and Madison (Vanessa Marano) and her accident-prone boyfriend Jimmy (Benjamin Papac) are spending their holiday with family in a lakeside cabin. However, between the family arguments, isolation and a rather disappointing Christmas meal, the young couples stay is hardly going to plan. But, when Madison and Jimmy spot some unusual activity at the neighbour’s house, they decide to investigate. After all, the neighbours are away, right? Breaking into the house, Madison and Jimmy use the time to escape the family arguments next door, finally falling asleep in the neighbour’s bedroom. However, when they wake, they find burglars have ransacked the house. And when the police arrive, the young couple is forced to explain why they are there.
Initially, the police are less than convinced by Madison and Jimmy story. However, as a series of burglaries are discovered in the local community, Jimmy and Madison soon find themselves at the heart of the mystery. Their quiet lakeside retreat, becoming a fortress as they await the arrival of the mysterious festive robbers plaguing the town. The result is a confused movie that doesn’t know whether it’s aiming to be a slapstick, adult version of Home Alone or a comedy crime caper. Its narrative, uncomfortably straddling the two while never really finding its feet despite its engaging cast and performances.
Despite its festive potential, Maria Bissell’s feature debut ultimately whittles away any of its initial promise with an overly convoluted story that leads to nothing but a dead-end. Here, the comedy is lacklustre, the staging erratic, and the characters bland. And while the cast attempt to do their best with the material on offer, the result is nothing short of disappointing. It’s only saving grace, some assured cinematography and an engaging score.
How to Deter a Robber is available to rent or buy now
The Boy Behind the Door
Any mainstream horror that chooses child abduction and abuse as its main story walks a fine line. After all, how do you couple the true horror of child abuse and kidnapping with classic horror scares without becoming distasteful in the process? Many films over the years have fallen foul of this balance, for example, The Girl Next Door. However, The Boy Behind the Door navigates this fine line with skill, even if the film’s final act sadly resorts to a more traditional horror template. But, the ending aside, there is much to admire in David Charbonier and Justin Powell’s claustrophobic horror-thriller.
Twelve-year-old Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and Kevin (Ezra Dewey) are close friends, playing baseball while dreaming of a new life in California. However, as they play in the park, a dark presence sits just out of view. And when Kevin walks off to collect a baseball hit by Bobby, the dark entity takes its opportunity. As Bobby calls for Kevin with no answer, he decides to venture into the undergrowth. But, the mysterious figure lies in wait, and Bobby, just like his friend, is knocked from his feet. When Kevin and Bobby come to, they find themselves tied and gagged with tape in a car boot; Kevin pulled from the trunk, as Bobby is left in darkness.
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Bobby frantically struggles in the car boot until he worms himself free of the restraints holding him, kicking the trunk with all his might until he is free. But, as Bobby starts to run for his life, he remembers Kevin, who must be held in the sprawling house behind him. Bobby stops, turns around and slowly enters the home; his mission, to save his friend at any cost.
The opening half of Charbonier and Powell’s film is full of tension as Bobby navigates the house searching for his friend. His only guide, the cries of Kevin, as he begs to be set free. This creates an uncomfortable atmosphere for the viewer. One that is intensified when a man arrives at the front door with a bundle of cash. His intention, the horrifying abuse of both Bobby and his friend. And from this point on, the urgency of the boys escape steps up a gear as Bobby desperately tries to find his friend.
At this point, we need to talk about the two exceptional young stars at the film’s heart. Chavis and Dewey’s emotional, fear drenched performances are the keys to The Boy Behind the Door remaining on the right side of the tracks, given its subject matter. Both boys, believable, both performances, full of raw emotion from the first scene to the last. Without these two leads, The Boy Behind the Door could have easily slipped into an overly uncomfortable mess. Then we have the films expert pacing, and here all credit goes to its directors. Charbonier and Powell understand that horror lies as much in the unseen as the seen, and this is played to significant effect in the films opening half. Equally, the pair play with audience preconceptions with a killer twist before the final act begins.
However, within this final act, The Boy Behind the Door stumbles as it adopts a classic horror template. The tension of the first half, suddenly replaced by a classic cat and mouse slasher that ultimately avoids the significant issues raised earlier on. Mores the pity because while this may offer the film an easy route out from the story’s darkness, it ultimately feels evasive. Here, the darkness of the topic is finally too tricky to navigate as the directors try to find an acceptable conclusion.
Watch The Boy Behind the Door now on Shudder