Exclusive: Production Designer Ryan Brett Puckett Breaks Down the Dark Look of THE BOY BEHIND THE DOOR
The home-invasion thriller, The Boy Behind the Door is currently making the film festival rounds, premiering at Fantastic Fest in Austin last month, and more recently wrapping up screenings at AFI and the Philadelphia Film Festival.
The film, by first-time feature directors, David Charbonier and Justin Powell, follows two adolescent boys (played by Lonnie Chavis and Ezra Dewey) who are kidnapped and brought to a strange house in the middle of nowhere. Fighting against all odds, they try to escape to freedom.
After Bobby and his best friend Kevin are kidnapped and taken to a strange house in the middle of nowhere, Bobby manages to escape. But as he starts to make a break for it, he hears Kevin’s screams for help and realizes he can’t leave his friend behind.
The majority of The Boy Behind the Door takes place in a dim house where the boys are being held captive, so the setting acts as almost another main character. Because of this, great emphasis was put on the look of the location. We learned from the film’s production designer, Ryan Brett Puckett, that the home was completely transformed for the film, from pastel walls to the decrepit, minimal look we see on screen. To learn more about the process for transforming the set, and the overall look of the film, we spoke exclusively with Ryan below. Find out where the film is screening next, HERE.
Dread Central: How did you initially become involved with The Boy Behind the Door?
Ryan Brett Puckett: The Line Producer and UPMNarineh Hacopian and Derek Bishé reached out to see if I was available to chat about The Boy Behind the Door. We had worked together on the film, Bitch, for Spectrevison a few years earlier, and this one felt like another interesting and edgy perspective. The script hooked me immediately, and I ended up sitting down to meet with Justin, David and the Whitewater producers the next evening to find out more.
DC: Was there a specific message the directors, David Charbonier and Justin Powell, wanted to convey with the look of the film?
RBP: I feel we were trying to find a balance in the look for building a lot of tension without pushing into the realm of gratuitous or unbelievable. We spend a large portion of the film in very confined spaces, so it was really important to walk that line between establishing the geography and keeping the tone unknown and dangerous.
DC: What sort of preparation did you do before starting work on The Boy Behind the Door?
RBP: A lot of it was trying to build a narrative for what the backstory was on the house, and how we got up to this point with our kidnapper. I really wanted that history first to inform design decisions as they came up. The house itself is such a looming character for the early portion of the film, so trying to coax a dialogue out of the space was imperative to kick things off.
DC: Did you get inspiration from any other horror films for The Boy Behind the Door? If so, which ones?
RBP: Not necessarily horror, but I’m a big fan of Panic Room. That suspense of a compressed space can be so interesting, and I kept thinking about how various moments unfold in similar films like Rear Window, and Green Room. The messy cat and mouse detective game always keeps me on edge, and really makes me ponder what I would feel in that same moment.
DC: How would you describe the aesthetic of The Boy Behind the Door?
RBP: Anachronistic Noir? I really have to think about this one! I never tried to put a label to it in the early design stages. Some projects I will start with a specific aesthetic and steer things towards it. For this, as mentioned before, we created a backstory for the origins of the house, and as that started to take on its own life, the look evolved in layers as it would have naturally over the course of preceding decades.
DC: The majority of the film takes place in a pretty dark, decrepit looking house. Was the house already like this when you all found it or did a lot have to be done to make it look like this?
RBP: I would have enjoyed so much more sleep, and had fewer headaches if it looked this way initially! I absolutely love this location. The house was built in the late 1890s, so the core architecture had a lot of the feel we needed to start, and some areas were really weathered. However, most of the rooms had been painted bright pastel colors, and newer renovations added fixtures or repairs that were incomplete or not appropriate for the space. With the age and value of the property, there were a lot of restrictions on what we were allowed to change. I spent a majority of our pre-production time doing materials tests, and pre visualizations renderings to convince the location that we could safely change the look of the space temporarily, without harming any of the surfaces. It was a struggle from beginning to end trying to keep up the facade of our temporary look over weeks of shooting.
DC: What was the biggest obstacle, design-wise, for this film?
RBP: The story takes place in the Midwest, and we were shooting in Southern California. Trying to establish a feeling of colder moody weather involved a lot of little tricks spread out through the scenes. Clear skies, palm trees, and cacti were a daily nuisance, but we lucked out on our first day with a short burst of unexpected rain. While that throws everything into chaos on a film shoot, it felt like a good sign, and we just kept that aesthetic momentum going.
DC: The film recently screened at Fantastic Fest and AFI. Is there something that has surprised you most about what critics and audiences are saying about the film?
RBP: It’s been a treat seeing everyone rally behind the bond with Bobby and Kevin! They’re the bright contrast that makes everything else so much more terrifying!
DC: Is there a director that you haven’t gotten to work with yet, that you would like to? Why would you like to work with him/her?
RBP: My favorite films usually combine sci-fi or futurism with slow-burn thriller and introspection. It’s such a fun realm to play in visually, and Alex Garland’s projects always leave me thinking for days after. That additional philosophical contemplation that comes along with films of this nature end up being really inspiring for me, even if that journey passes through some dark places to get there.
Learn more about Ryan Brett Puckett, HERE.
What did you think of our exclusive interview with Ryan Brett Puckett? Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram! You can also carry on the convo with me personally on Twitter @josh_millican.