Behind You. 2020.
Directed by Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon.
Starring Addy Miller, Elizabeth Birkner, Jan Broberg, Philip Brodie, and Aimee-Lynn Chadwick.
Two young sisters find that all the mirrors in their estranged aunt’s house are covered or hidden. When one of them happens upon a mirror in the basement, she unknowingly releases a malicious demon.
Behind You is “serviceable horror cinema” in every sense of the commonly dependable, workman-like descriptor. As with Into The Mirror, American remake Mirrors, Oculus, or countless other reflective genre films, writers/directors Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon use silver-coated glass to unlock a demonic portal. A curse enacted, a targeted child, a malevolent figure only visible in Mirrorland – all the building blocks of horror cinema are fastened into place. Technical merits punch above preconceived “low-budget” levels in terms of cinematography and moody scoring, and yet, too much is telegraphed eons before audiences can experience shock or surprise. Which, after three acts, becomes the film’s biggest obstacle to overcome.
Big sister Olivia (Addy Miller) and lil’ one Claire (Elizabeth Birkner) find themselves guests of Aunt Beth (Jan Broberg) after their mother’s untimely death. There are rules to abide by involving locked doors that must remain unopened, especially the basement. Olivia, curiously, peels back some bathroom wallpaper to reveal covered mirrors which is “no-no” number one. Claire, ever the scamp, goes into the basement and uncovers a mirror that speaks back as her mother. Utter a ritual chant three times and reunification is promised, but that ain’ mamma. Not one bit.
Viewed as a haunted lock-in, Behind You sets expectations of mild-mannered scare tactics and rarely strives beyond this “passable” level. Ghostly imagery is never outright damning, usually someone pulled out of frame or into cover-all shadows. Mecham and Whedon play for “gotcha” jumps as possession angles transplant the demon from vessel to vessel, or go all invisible hag when said spirit freely roams when selecting another target. It’s a bit scattershot as the demon can exist both within fleshy confines or outside soul takeovers, questioning what rules exist. Beneficial to overall horror, but a bit underdeveloped upon mythos inspection.
As evil preys on the innocent, Claire becomes the mirror demon’s favorite target. A pipsqueak who’s allergic to peanuts and protective of her stuffed animal confidant, given the heaviest performance tasks when exorcism subplots intensify (like I said, a little bit of everything). While the discovery of Claire’s food allergy is dramatically insane – Olivia neglects to inform Beth or courteous helper Charles (Philip Brodie), the latter who cooks African stew with peanut infusion for dinner – and yet, scripting finds a way to bring pivotal importance to the character’s hurdle. Epinephrine injections and fits of asphyxiation are more than distractions while danger looms. A thoughtful exploration of medical impediments otherwise passively used.
There’s not much Mecham and Whedon add to horror’s lexicon on grief and trauma, but special effects are timely given ties to Leigh Whannell’s The Invisible Man. You’ll get your levitations, “fighting against what we cannot see,” and it’s rather polished by comparative indie horror standards. Behind You is cleanly framed, visually inviting, and works with darkened nightly atmospheres in a way that proves the filmmaking duo adept at staging horror cues. Said execution may leave veteran genre fans with nary a raised pulse, but hardly did this critic feel failed by a product that leaves presence to be desired.
Conversely, characters do indeed run the same circles many other supernatural fighters have once pounded into domestic floorboards. Olivia and Claire initially believe Beth to have committed murder in her early years, which no doubt was the mirror’s fault – but the film spends far too long keeping hesitation alive in character minds. Performances are all tempered and reactionary to the horrors at hand, maintaining the illusion of terror, but run-of-the-mill storytelling is rather rudimentary despite the weaponizing of anaphylactic shock. I couldn’t help but feel like we’ve wandered these halls and endured duplicated threats before, because, frankly, we have. Not an issue per se, only Mecham and Whedon struggle to elevate familiar content above said cumbersome familiarity.
Behind You may not have viewers peering over their shoulders for a prolonged duration out of passed-on paranoia, but intro-level horror fans will find their shrieks. I’m a sucker for candy red lighting, so expeditions into a basement soaked in bloody hues made me smile. Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon are meddling within restrictive means and that’s apparent, more so in narrative expansion than actual cinematic presentation. For some that’ll feed your horror hunger, while others will be left unfulfilled. Mileage may vary based on your obsessive devouring of horror cinema tropes, norms, the whole satanic shebang.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★
Matt spends his after-work hours posting nonsense on the internet instead of sleeping like a normal human. He seems like a pretty cool guy, but don’t feed him after midnight just to be safe (beers are allowed/encouraged). Follow him on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd (@DoNatoBomb).