Lots of innocuous things become dangerous in horror films, but Behind You once again proves there are fewer things deadlier than real estate. Be it a too cheap house in a desirable neighborhood, an inherited castle, or an abandoned ruin of a once important structure, savvy genre viewers know from years of viewing experience that nothing good will possibly come of an impressive spread.
Behind You centers on Olivia (Addy Miller) and Claire (Elizabeth Birkner), who have just lost their mother, and their absentee father is apparently unreachable. A family friend and former coworker of their mother, Camilla (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick), has no choice but to drop the girls off temporarily with their estranged Aunt Beth (Jan Broberg).
As the towheaded twosome stand on the sidewalk squinting up into the bright sunlight that shines just about everywhere other than the grounds of their massive temporary lodgings, it is more than likely there is something malevolent afoot. When caretaker/family friend Charles (Philip Brodie) opens the house in a wave of apologetic excuses and near hysterical cheerfulness, we’re sure of it.
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We’ve already seen an opening flashback of the pair’s other aunt and her mysterious disappearance 40 years earlier. Not even the wallpaper has changed since then, so when Aunt Beth summarily dismisses Camilla and snarls rules at the house guests she clearly didn’t want, it’s no surprise as to why. This ill-tempered instruction includes very specific references to the broken elevator and perpetually locked basement, and every mirror in the house is covered up.
By the time Claire’s beloved stuffed bunny starts talking, we know she’s headed straight for that forbidden mirror filled basement, and the only real question is what set of words she will be tricked into chanting to release the evil entity from its glass prison and into her body. Less than 30 minutes into the runtime, the basic beats of a rather familiar story are mapped out for us, and the tension the film builds has gone slack.
First time directors Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon (brother of Hollywood’s Joss) take a measured pace to their shots, the slow lurking camera a nice means of building atmosphere given that the entire movie takes place in or around the same house. There are moments of very moody visual work, such as Claire heading into the basement, moonlight giving way to flickering candlelight shining off of her blonde hair, or the purposeful gloom of the few moments in the garden. Overall, the movie looks better than it should at this budget, but cinematographer Benjamin Allred occasionally errs on the side of slightly too slick and pretty, bathing the airy rooms in warm light that looks more realtor open house ready than scary movie.
Production notes included in the press materials mention that this was something of a troubled shoot, with budgetary and location issues causing large last minute changes to the script. Even for a viewer not afforded that additional context, the labored production shows. All of the characters are frustratingly one dimensional, and you could easily swap their names for generic archetypes (big sister, little sister, mean auntie) without losing anything major. In the rare case we get any information about them, it is some oddball detail (Claire’s peanut allergy, Aunt Beth’s violin prodigy past, Charles’ lack of children) only mentioned in service of a later plot device.
That said, the actors do a surprisingly fine job of making do with what they have to work with. Philip Brodie manages to shade the contours in some by playing the role of Charles tooth achingly sweet to Jan Broberg’s inhumanly sour Beth, and Elizabeth Birkner shows winning potential when Claire is in the dark thrall of demonic possession.
The expositional meat has clearly been cleaved off of the bones of the plot, creating some weirdly unnecessary craters in the film’s logic. Camilla’s entire function in the film is to kick things off by dropping the girls off at the house, then abandoning her stated cross-country move to attempt to rescue the girls at gunpoint when things turn sinister. Her sudden turn toward vigilantism is bizarre given her sweet and somewhat meek behavior in her previous scenes. Having inadvertently shown Olivia that her younger sister Claire really is possessed and won’t leave the house, Camilla is written out of the film.
Even stranger is the conceit that no one is able to reach the girls’ father because he is “overseas on a business trip”. It is annoyingly unlikely an international business man in 2020 has no access to email, phone calls or texts to the point that his ex wife’s coworker has to drop his kids off to an aunt they have never met. This sort of silliness would not be a problem if Behind You was a film swinging for the camp fences. Given that everything is played straight, there are simpler explanations than the overly complicated options the film chooses. I suspect some of the connective scenes that provided context for these ideas were likely cut due to production constraints.
While I commend the cast and crew for valiantly soldiering on in what sounds like very much less than ideal conditions, the end result has little to distinguish it from a sea of options in a crowded sub genre. You could find far worse ways to kill 86 minutes than this film, but you can also find many stronger variations on the same central idea. I do hope the team of Mecham and Whedon get a chance to make a second feature. I would be curious to see what their vision as filmmakers was intended to be, that circumstances prevented from being fully realized in the unfortunately far too familiar feel of Behind You.
WICKED RATING: 4.5/10
Director(s): Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon
Writer(s): Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon
Stars: Addy Miller, Elizabeth Birkner, Jan Broberg, Philip Brodie
Release: April 17, 2020 (VOD/Digital)
Studio/ Production Co: Vertical Entertainment
Length: 86 minutes