Review: BEHIND YOU Delivers Rote, Routine Chills and Few Thrills
Jan Broberg, Addy Miller, Elizabeth Birkner and Philip Brodie star in a horror-thriller, directed by Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon.
The sadly inauspicious, feature-length debut of writing-directing duo Andrew Mecham (The Nameless Days) and Matthew “brother of Joss” Whedon, Behind You, a demon-centered supernatural horror film set inside a dimly lit, labyrinthine, contemporary mansion somewhere in Utah, unfolds as a slow-motion descent into painfully familiar genre tropes, wobbly, unbalanced storytelling, and all-too-infrequent scares, thrills, or chills, ultimately resulting in the virtual equivalent of an indifferent shoulder shrug of the indifferent kind.
Burdened by a tedious, bland story cobbled together from other, much better supernatural horror films, but elevated almost imperceptibly by a game cast, Behind You at its absolute best delivers forgettable, disposable thrills for audiences eager to fill the vast, boundless swath of unstructured time unexpectedly offered as a side effect by the nationwide stay-at-home/shelter-in-place/self-quarantine orders that followed in the wake of a global pandemic with no apparent end in sight.
Mecham and Whedon leave no genre trope or convention unused, from the pre-film, offscreen death of a female parental figure, said female parental figure’s preteen and teen daughters, Claire (Elizabeth Birkner) and Olivia (Addy Miller), to the older, never-before-seen or met aunt, Beth (Joy Broberg) who reluctantly takes them into her ultra-creepy mansion in the middle of a perpetually empty suburban street, to the oddly behaving, if overly solicitous, neighbor, Charlie (Philip Brodie), to the locked basement and study with the obligatory flashing neon sign, “No Entry Allowed,” over their respective doors.
Beth makes little effort to accommodate Claire or Olivia, let alone addressing the emotional upheaval they suffered when they lost their mother unexpectedly. (Behind You dispenses with their father by vaguely mentioning he’s living in Europe somewhere and unavailable to either give them a call or return to the states.)
Numbed by grief and loss, Claire can only communicate through a stuffed rabbit. After hearing a disembodied voice she can’t identify, however, slips into a mirror-filled basement, follows the disembodied voice’s instructions to chant a certain, Candyman-inspired phrase three times, unleashing a demonic presence hiding in one or more of the mirrors, ultimately leading to the usual complications, none of them positive, associated with unwelcome or uninvited houseguests who refuse to leave or pay their share of the rent or utilities. An obvious castoff from a failed Ring remake or spinoff, the nameless demon sets up residence in Claire’s body, in turn creating a problem for older sister Olivia and aunt Beth: Separating Claire from the nameless demon without ending Claire’s life in the process.
Mecham and Whedon certainly know their haunted house/supernatural horror, probably too well. Every plot turn, every story twist, every emotional beat has its antecedent in other, well-known genre entries, though it’s just obvious that Mecham and Whedon owe a considerable debt they can’t repay to The Conjuring and Insidious franchises, plus The Ring(u) series, and, of course, Candyman and its straight-to-video sequels.
It’s a shame, though, that Mecham and Whedon can’t offset or supplement Behind You’s shortage of narrative novelty with original visuals. At their best, they’re efficient, economical filmmakers, maximizing their limited resources to occasionally engaging, engrossing effect, but at their worst -- and on balance, they tend to be at their worst more often than at their best -- they struggle mightily to elevate Behind You’s rote, routine storytelling beyond the banal or the pedestrian. (You can forget sustained tension or suspense of any kind too, especially after a deliberately meandering, unfocused first hair.)
To be fair, Mecham and Whedon manage to elicit uniformly strong performances from their cast, especially Birkner and Miller as sisters battered by grief and loss, even as they otherwise let their cast and the audience down.