Fox // 2008 // 110 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Tom Becker // January 13th, 2009
There is evil...on the other side.
Disgraced former cop Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland, Dark City) gets a job as a night watchman at a burned out and shuttered New York City department store. The once elegant Bloomies-like shop features high ceilings, lots of artifacts from its glory days, and mirrors, mirrors everywhere.
It's this last feature that becomes troubling. It seems that the mirrors have a life of their own. Ben sees things being reflected that aren't actually happening. In addition, people seem to have mirror images that are independent and can cause harm to their reflected selves and others.
What do the mirrors want? Well, someone or something called "Esseker." Will Ben be able to solve this mystery before the mirrors destroy him -- and his family?
Unlike so many recent horror films, Mirrors is not based on a superior Japanese movie; rather, it's based on a superior Korean movie, Geoul Sokeuro (a.k.a. In the Mirror). Actually, I didn't see the Korean version, so saying it's "superior" is really a guess, but I suspect it's a pretty good guess. Like so many recent horrors, Mirrors takes an intriguing premise and bungles it in execution.
In real life, mirrors can be scary things. Ever pass by one in an unfamiliar, dimly lit place? Ever stare into one too long and notice your image distorting? Ever glimpse something reflected that wasn't really there?
Filmmakers have long used mirrors to jolt us creep us. Hitchcock used them extensively in Psycho. I still remember having nightmares as a kid from scenes involving mirrors in Carnival of Souls and "The Hitchhiker" episode of The Twilight Zone.
So, with this built in fear facet, why isn't Mirrors more successful at creating an image of skin-crawling dread?
Because it's not going for skin-crawling dread. It's going for full-bore gore and shocks, gruesome and wholly predictable f/x deaths, and fires and explosions. Like so many directors, Alexandre Aja seems not to realize that it's not the cries but the whispers that are scariest.
It's a shame because there are many moments -- especially early in the film, when Ben is exploring the dark and dank department store -- that are genuinely nerve wracking, and where it looks like this is going to be closer to The Haunting of 1963 than to the The Haunting of 1999. Unfortunately, these bits of quiet terror soon give way to the usual litany of over-the-top horrors cued with a sledgehammer score.
It doesn't help that the plot -- which gives us oodles of needless back story for Ben, several stories about the department store, peripheral characters also driven batty by the mirrors, fire victims, child abuse victims, and demonic possession -- is confused, convoluted, and ultimately, irrelevant. In a case of clumsy writing, every few minutes, everything on screen grinds to halt so a character can deliver exposition or talk about why mirrors are scary. The ultimate solution to the mystery never really gels or engages us.
Sutherland's development as an actor -- from the callow youth of The Lost Boys and Flatliners to the serious and deeply flawed middle-aged savior of the world in 24 -- has been rewarding to see. He's the rare actor who knew when to leave "boyish" behind and start playing unglamorous men. He brings more than a little Jack Bauer intensity to his role here, but Mirrors is a silly film, and Sutherland's steady stream of anger, fear, and horror just point up that silliness. In one scene, his character imagines he's on fire, and Sutherland gamely rolls around on the ground screaming, "Help! Help!" while pantomiming a burn victim. Props for taking one for the team, but you can't help but feel a little embarrassed for him there.
The screener discs Fox sends out are a little hard to judge in terms of technical quality since they're not a "finished" product. The image on the disc I watched for Mirrors was decent, though some of the dark scenes are a little too dark. I will credit Aja for making a film that takes place in a dark building that doesn't have that industrial Saw look to it. The set design for the abandoned department store is actually very effective and well lit. The audio was quite good, with the subtle sounds hitting just the right mark.
The screener -- which, like the release, includes both the unrated and R-rated theatrical version (the unrated was about 10 seconds longer, so I'm guessing there were a few more blood spatters) -- had three extras. "Reflections: The Making of Mirrors" was actually a pretty well-done and comprehensive look at the film and contained interviews from virtually all the major participants. "Behind the Mirror" is a fun featurette that explores mirrors in myth and legend. We also get a bunch of deleted and alternate scenes with optional director's commentary. According to the official Mirrors Web site, the disc-for-purchase will include a few more supplements, such as a digital copy and a picture-in-picture commentary if you have a "Bonusview"-enabled DVD player. It looks like it's going to be a very nice package for a pretty mediocre film.
In the bonus features, Mirrors is compared to The Shining, and while watching, I had also thought of this, but in a different way. With a stronger and more focused script, more attention to atmosphere, and less reliance on familiar shocks, Mirrors could have been a counterpart to the Kubrick classic.
Mirrors is more a misfire than a catastrophe. The tone is wrong, and the levels are off. It's an unremarkable horror film starring an actor who should be more selective about his projects.
Guilty of giving us the tried-and-true.
Review content copyright © 2009 Tom Becker; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
Running Time: 110 Minutes
Release Year: 2008
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted/Alternate Scenes
* Official Site