By MICHAEL GINGOLD
Starring Addy Miller, Elizabeth Birkner and Jan Broberg
Written and directed by Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon
BEHIND YOU is the kind of horror film whose plot depends on its central characters being remarkably uninformed. It begins with two girls, teenage Olivia (Addy Miller) and younger Claire (Elizabeth Birkner), being delivered to the home of their aunt Beth (Jan Broberg) following their mother’s death. “This doesn’t look so bad, does it?” says Camilla (Aimee-Lynn Chadwick) as they arrive at the house, and it doesn’t really, but it does have a pretty awful history. Camilla was a close friend and co-worker of the now-absent mom, and you’d think that somewhere along the line, Camilla would have learned that Beth (as seen in the movie’s 40-years-ago prologue) had another sister who died under mysterious circumstances, in which Beth had been implicated, and that Beth therefore might not be the best person to leave Olivia and Claire with.
You’d also think that Camilla might have at least called ahead to let Beth know they were coming, but she and the young sisters show up unannounced, with nowhere else to go. (The girls’ father is “overseas on a business trip,” apparently somewhere that has no cell-phone reception or Internet access.) Beth is none too happy to see them, and reluctantly takes in Olivia and Claire, dispensing a series of harsh and strict household rules and restrictions that make it clear they’re not going to have a fun time of things; Beth even sets them up in deceased Aunt Angela’s old room, since it’s the only one with a free bed in it (which apparently can’t be moved).
Through these new, trying circumstances, Olivia remains protective of her little sibling, who was traumatized into muteness by their mother’s passing, and will only talk to her stuffed rabbit, Lucy B. You’d think her care for her sister would extend to Olivia letting Beth and Beth’s old friend Charles (Philip Brodie), who cooks for the group, know in advance about Claire’s severe peanut allergy, but she only brings it up after the little girl is already having a seizure at the dinner table. This lapse is a little bit more forgivable, since it sets up one of BEHIND YOU’s few clever developments in the closing act.
One of its few spooky moments occurs in the house’s bathroom, where, as everywhere else in the place, the mirror has been covered up. Olivia tears back a bit of the wallpaper that hides the glass, only to see a horrible visage behind her in the reflection. Just before meeting her fate decades earlier, Angela also spotted something nasty in a mirror, and the evil presence is soon communicating with Claire via Lucy B., encouraging her to break into the locked, forbidden cellar with the promise of seeing Mommy again. Needless to say, something else is waiting down there, just waiting for an easily manipulated child to help it cross over from its netherworld to our Earthly plane.
Written and directed by Andrew Mecham and Matthew Whedon (Joss’ brother), BEHIND YOU is pretty standard stuff, though it feels like it hurries through the plot of your typical haunted-house movie in the first half hour, raising hopes that it’ll proceed into more interesting areas thereafter. Unfortunately, it rarely strays from the basics, with atmospheric enough cinematography by Benjamin Allred and only a couple of decent startles, and an increasing dependence on contrivances to keep the storyline going. Miller, the little-girl zombie in the first episode of THE WALKING DEAD 10 years (!) ago, and Birkner engender a certain amount of sympathy in roles that are thinly written and occasionally inconsistent—in one scene Claire is afraid of Beth, in the next she wants to stay with her. Beth herself is given a properly chilly reading by Broberg, who’s appeared in films like the MANIAC remake but is best known as the subject of the documentary ABDUCTED IN PLAIN SIGHT, though her characterization is erratic as well. For fans of mirror-based horror, it wouldn’t take much reflection to realize that either CANDYMAN or OCULUS is a much better bet.