Mirrors have long exerted a dark fascination, from the Bloody Mary game you may have played in childhood to its use in numerous horror films including Candyman, Oculus and, of course, Mirrors. (These reflective items could, of course, become much scarier as we see ourselves after months of self-quarantining.) While this latest genre film to employ the device doesn’t add anything particularly fresh to the mix, Behind You, marking the directorial debut of Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon (brother of Joss), offers a few spooky thrills to get you through another night stuck at home.
The low-budget indie begins with teenage Olivia (Addy Miller) and her younger sister Claire (Elizabeth Birkner) being escorted by concerned family friend Camilla (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick) to the home of their estranged Aunt Beth (Jan Bronberg). Camilla has been taking care of the sisters, whose mother is dead, while their father has been on an extended business trip. But now she’s forced to leave the children with their relative who clearly doesn’t relish having them as guests.
Aunt Beth, whose forbidding demeanor makes her seem like a character in a gothic novel, informs the new arrivals that there are rules that must be obeyed. The girls are forbidden to go into the locked basement, because “there are rats.” They are to ignore any noises they might hear during the night, because she has a “tendency to sleepwalk.” As if this isn’t all weird enough, the girls quickly realize that the house is utterly devoid of mirrors, for reasons that go unexplained. Fortunately for them, a friendly neighbor, Charles (Philip Brodie), is frequently on hand to lighten the atmosphere.
Needless to say, it doesn’t take long before Claire, who is so emotionally traumatized by her mother’s passing that she speaks only through her stuffed bunny, sneaks into the basement. She happens upon a mirror where words magically appear in dust, ones that seem to come from her mother, including the plea, “I need to get out.” The little girl manages to make that happen, but what emerges instead turns out to be, as one character describes it, “an entity of extreme malevolence” (physically embodied in fleeting moments by a lithe James C. Morris) who wreaks havoc in the household.
Behind You features little that horror film fans haven’t seen endless times before. There’s nothing wrong with familiar conventions, of course, but the novice writers-directors here fail to enliven them with the sort of wit or inventiveness that would make their effort stand out. The pic’s strongest element proves to be its creepily atmospheric visuals, with cinematographer Benjamin Allred and production designer Justin Partridge making the most of the story’s single setting. The practical visual effects (there was clearly no money in the budget for CGI) are equally effective, with Christian Davis’ musical score adding further tension.
There’s no compensating, however, for the contrived plotting (one suspenseful scene involving a nut allergy medical emergency feels particularly extraneous) and hokey situations on display. The performers do what they can with the tired material, with Birkner and Miller looking convincingly frightened as the endangered children and Broberg (the subject of Netflix’s disturbing 2017 documentary Abducted in Plain Sight) impressively chilling as the officious aunt with a tragic past. Best of all, however, is Philip Brodie, who infuses his portrayal of the genial but mysterious Charles with intriguing ambiguity.
Available Friday on VOD
Production companies: Paralleloverse, Tremendum Pictures
Distributor: Vertical Entertainment
Cast: Jan Broberg, Addy Miller, Elizabeth Birkner, Philip Brodie
Directors-screenwriters: Andrew Mecham, Matthew Whedon
Producers: Jesse Ranney, Larissa Beck
Executive producers: Chris Lofing, Travis Cluff, Melissa Cannon, Inter Labrum
Director of photography: Benjamin Allred
Editors: Andy Matthews, Aaron Tharp
Composer: Christian Davis
Costume designer: Emily Jacobson
Rated R, 83 minutes