Siblings Olivia (Addy Miller) and Claire (Elizabeth Birkner), having buried their mom and effectively orphaned by their absentee workaholic dad, do the only logical thing kids in their position can: They move in with their estranged Aunt Beth (Jan Broberg), a career recluse guilty of teenage sororicide. Obviously, Beth’s the worst possible guardian the girls could have, but she’s also all they have, so they make themselves at home and immediately notice that all of the mirrors in the place are either hidden or draped with blankets. They then notice, as soon as they start pulling back the covers, an influx in creepy happenings, up to and including Claire’s demonic possession.
Characters make bad decisions in horror movies all the time, and Behind You, by director-writer duo Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon, features no exception to the rule. Face it, viewers, if you wandered through a family member’s house and found evidence that they suffered from acute catoptrophobia, you’d probably get a tad curious and start peeking behind the veil, too. The film’s central conceit works; it’s simple, and eerie thanks to that simplicity. What works less is how the conceit is explored. Behind You stumbles on inconsistency at best and hesitation at worst. From the opening scene, Mecham and Whedon tease their audience with the tantalizing promise of evil observed only in reflection. By the end, they’ve squandered that promise.
There’s evil in Beth’s house, a malevolent force lurking in her mirrors: It’s the thing that took her own sister in her adolescence, and wants to take Claire in the movie’s present. What few glimpses we catch of this creature satisfy, its jerky, stilted movements layering the film with much-needed dread as characters stare back helplessly at impending doom sneaking up behind them. The title suggests a sequence of scares where Olivia, Beth and her neighbor-cum-high-school-sweetheart Charles (Philip Brodie) look constantly over their (and each other’s) shoulders to stay alive, but this really only comes up in the third act, where the backstory has been filled out and stakes have finally been established.
Up until that point, Behind You is a watered down haunted house picture that’s hamstrung by too much exposition and uneven performances. Beth, for instance, reads as wild-eyed and stiff, which underserves her persona. Ultimately she’s not the looney hermit everyone takes her to be—she’s a survivor, and also, as we learn the more the film unfolds, a hard-nosed supernatural historian who has devoted her adult life to learning all about the monster that effectively murdered her little sister. But all of this is missing in Broberg’s work, just as an appropriate amount of guilt and heartache is missing from Brodie’s. Behind You doesn’t give its actors enough space to embody their roles, to the detriment of its human component. The chills are there, but not reason enough to relish them.
The picture has imagination, especially considering Mecham and Whedon are not the first horror filmmakers to use mirrors as fonts of evil, but Behind You’s blend of fairy tale fright and rule breaking folly works nicely when it works at all. The mirror function as both a conduit for malice and a literal weapon against it; watching the cast wield shards of glass as a shield and a sword is, frankly, pretty neat, even if the dynamic is abandoned as soon as it’s introduced. It’s a good idea. Why that good idea isn’t fully embraced earlier in the movie is puzzling, almost as much as the indecision of the writing. There’s a pretty solid spook-a-blast flick tucked away in Behind You, but as it is, the movie has more potential than actual pleasures.
Directors: Andrew Mecham, Matthew Whedon
Writers: Andrew Mecham, Matthew Whedon
Starring: Addy Miller, Elizabeth Berkner, Jan Broberg, Philip Brodie
Release Date: April 17, 2020
Bostonian culture journalist Andy Crump covers the movies, beer, music, and being a dad for way too many outlets, perhaps even yours. He has contributed to Paste since 2013. You can follow him on Twitter and find his collected work at his personal blog. He’s composed of roughly 65% craft beer.