Wednesday, April 15, 2020

'Behind You' (2020) Movie Review

Even with everyone stuck in quarantine thanks to COVID-19, and movie theaters basically nonexistent at the moment, there’s still been a steady stream of new horror movies to check out. Most of these are smaller titles that were destined to have a largely streaming releases anyway, so not much changed for their plans. One of these is Behind You. It’s fine.

The film from writer/directors Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon has all the horror bells and whistles. Creepy kids with dead/mysteriously absent parents, sent to live with an equally creepy obscure relatives, demons trapped in mirrors, a convoluted back story that never quite adds up, a spooky house, unnerving dolls, a weird neighbor. It all culminates in a movie that, at best, is one genre fans have seen before. Newcomers or those who don’t spend much time in the horror pool may find more to latch on to.

When their mom dies, young sisters Olivia (Addy Miller) and Claire (Elizabeth) go live with their aunt Beth (Jan Broberg), a reclusive shut-in they don’t know, who’s dealing with her own childhood trauma. But she does have a big, near-gothic house and a weird neighbor, Charles (Philip Brodie), who’s just always around. Their father is alive but he’s…somewhere doing something and no one can find or reach him. The script sets this up as if it will have meaning eventually, though it never does, and one has to wonder why they didn’t kill him off along with the mother. Once the kids arrive, they discover there’s more to their aunt’s story than meets the eye. And once Claire unwittingly unleashes a mirror demon, it’s bad news for everyone.

Despite a few solid scares and some eerie ambiance, Behind You doesn’t offer much of interest. It looks nice and the filmmakers use the massive, sprawling house to decent effect, and at one point, Claire’s stuffed bunny seems to control her, which is fun. But there’s little earnest tension, the performances play flat and hollows, and characters make inane, unrealistic choices, even by low-budget horror movie standards. 

An example. Early on, Olivia goes to the bathroom at night, sees a monster in the mirror behind her, screams and runs and gets back in bed as if nothing happened and the movie never mentions it again. She wakes up refreshed and seemingly unbothered the next morning. Or the time an adult lets an unattended child go back into a house where people want to kill her to fetch a forgotten toy. 

Instances like this, where events don’t connect, where plot points have no causal repercussions, abound in Behind You and indicate script problems. It leaves the impression that the film was being rewritten on the fly. Watching scenes where the sisters dig and attempt to unravel their aunt’s past, it’s like they don’t relate to scenes involving the evil in the mirror, and vice versa, like they happen in separate narratives. 

It’s difficult to be too critical, with independent films like this, there are no resources, like money and time, for reshoots to go back and fill in gaps. Again, there’s the father storyline that probably went somewhere at some point, though it wound up edited out in one fashion or another. You have to work with what you have as best you can. 

There are promising nuggets here, especially how they deal with unseen demons near the climax, and the film occasionally pulls off strong, interesting effects. Overall, however, Behind You never capitalizes on what works. Mecham and Whedon show technical promise, but the film never amounts to much or offers any intrigue—and I’m a sucker for there’s-something-behind-you-in-the-mirror scares. It's available online this weekend. [Grade: C]

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