Straight off the success of The Djinn, directors Justin Powell and David Charbonier are at it again, with The Boy Behind the Door. The horror/thriller will be premiering on Shudder July 29th. The synopsis of the movie is as follows: A night of unimaginable terror awaits twelve-year-old Bobby (Lonnie Chavis) and his best friend, Kevin (Ezra Dewey), when they are abducted on their way home from school. Managing to escape his confines, Bobby navigates the dark halls, praying his presence goes unnoticed as he avoids his captor at every turn. Even worse is the arrival of another stranger, whose mysterious arrangement with the kidnapper may spell certain doom for Kevin. With no means of calling for help and miles of dark country in every direction, Bobby embarks on a rescue mission, determined to get himself and Kevin out alive… or die trying.
Acting almost as another main character is the ominous house, for which most of the film takes place in. Thanks to production designer Ryan Brett Puckett, there is a feeling of dread with every turn the kids make. To learn more about how the look of the film was achieved, we spoke with Ryan more in depth below.
Wicked Horror: How did you become involved with The Boy Behind the Door? Was it the directors that initially approached you?
Ryan Brett Puckett: The Line Producer and Unit Production Manager I worked with on the film BITCH sent the script over to me to see if I would be interested in TBBTD. I ended up having an interview with directors David Charbonier and Justin Powell about the film a few nights later, and we just bounced ideas back and forth about the feel and how to pull off some of the more difficult sequences dramatically. The script had the same gripping pace that the film carries, and I’m glad I got the opportunity to lend a hand to that process.
Wicked Horror: Did you have any say in the lighting of the film? Throughout the house and garage there is very minimal light, but I imagine you would want there to be a certain amount of light to see your work. How did you compromise on this?
Ryan Brett Puckett: While I certainly coordinate on color and lighting as much as possible, a lot of that look comes down to what the Cinematographer and the Directors feel works best for the film. Design doesn’t necessarily stay contained within the final frame. Building that world up to allow the crew and actors to feel the emotion of a space while shooting goes a long way towards helping everyone know and react with the tone of the film as we are creating it. Regardless of whether or not those details make it on the final screen, they always help us tell the story.
Wicked Horror: Can you talk about the main house. Did you use any of the owner’s belongs or did you clear everything out and bring all new things in to give the setting a different vibe?
Ryan Brett Puckett: There is definitely an old couch under newspapers and boxes in a corner somewhere, but generally we had to clear out everything in the rooms, basement, and garage to establish our look. Painting, wallpaper, chandeliers, various light fixtures, curtains, blinds, and furniture were brought in and installed. We also made custom set pieces to change the shape or size of rooms and hallways as well.
Wicked Horror: Was working in the horror genre easier or harder than some of the other genres you have worked on?
Ryan Brett Puckett: Every film, script, or genre has their own hurdles that can become fun or challenging, so I don’t feel any are easier or harder specifically. I tend to have a darker sensibility about most things though, and horror certainly gives more opportunities to play with exciting and stylized concepts that keep us on our toes day to day.
Wicked Horror: I noticed there is a lot of green in the film. From the kids’ shirts, the floral wallpaper, the green tinted tv and even the beer bottles scattered throughout the house. Was this a conscious decision?
Ryan Brett Puckett: I have a tendency to prefer really tight color palettes most of the time. Our goal was to keep things cold, so warmer tones were very restricted which leaves us in the greens and blues range quite a bit. Our Cinematographer and Gaffer did a great job replicating the effects of the old mercury vapor and fluorescent light sources from the industrial oil pumps around the location to bring the cooler blue green light into the house as well.
Wicked Horror: How many doors did you all go through to get that bathroom scene right?
Ryan Brett Puckett: Shockingly only one! We ended up making three doors after about a week of testing various materials and construction techniques to get the look we wanted. A lot of the typical methods for making breakaway stunt props looked absurdly fake when we first tried them. The night we shot this scene was as terrifying as it is in the film. Our amazing Stunts Coordinator Dennis and actor Kristin worked out the blocking to make sure everyone was safe, but when that ax started swinging, you knew she meant business. After we wrapped the Art Dept and I had fun taking swings at the remaining doors!
Wicked Horror: The house is very minimalist, but still very much tells a story with things like the wallpaper and door hardware. How did you find this nice balance?
Ryan Brett Puckett: I wanted a feeling that this isn’t a house anyone really lives in full time. Bad things happen here, but it’s not abandoned or intentionally spooky. A lot of possessions had been removed or pawned off over time if they had value. It’s just an old house, and we made sure what remained had a basis in that fictional history, or the immediate necessities of the current business at hand there.
Wicked Horror: You were the assistant art director on the American Horror Story Season 10? Can you discuss what it is exactly you did for that show?
Ryan Brett Puckett: The brilliant Production Designer and Art Director team of Chloe Arbiture and Jon Bell are good friends, and we work together as often as we get the opportunity. Fortunately, I was able to hop on to season 10 after they completed AHS “1984”. We’ve been creating the new season throughout the pandemic, and it’s going to be a wild one. I believe it premieres late August, so keep an eye out!
Wicked Horror: Are you personally a fan of horror films? If so, which ones have made the most influence on you?
Ryan Brett Puckett: I really like variety in my film genres, but Alien, Se7en, and 28 Days Later were films that captured me at a certain moment in my life, and really set me on a path of thinking about how films are created, opposed to just something to watch. I still revisit these often, and am always on the lookout for new films that capture a unique vision and aesthetic that stands out.