Opening Friday, August 15th
Directed by Alexandre Aja
Despite its best efforts to distance itself from the source material from which it was derived – in this case South Korea’s Into the Mirror – Mirrors doesn’t successfully transcend the formulaic supernatural hokum we’ve come to expect from the malevolent ghost/whodunit equation recycled to death in Asian horror cinema.
French helmer Alexandre Aja – here making his second American horror film following The Hills Have Eyes – comes to the table infusing the material with the strong visual flourishes and balls-out realistic graphic violence we’ve come to love him for; he, with co-writer Gregory Levasseur, completely revamp Into the Mirror‘s story. Still, at its core, Mirrors is yet another drab “haunted object” mystery where the protagonist must dig into the past to defeat a present threat – just like The Ring and recent duds Shutter and One Missed Call, although Aja proves malicious mirrors are more effective than creepy cameras and possessed cell phones.
Aja demonstrates the power his mirrors hold with the death of a security guard by way of his evil reflection – a strong start with the kind of bloodshed that makes you wish you brought an umbrella. And this sad sap isn’t the only one to suffer such a similar grisly demise. How and why this happens falls upon Ben Carson (Sutherland) to find out. He’s an ex-NYPD detective haunted by personal demons: Booze, meds and a tragedy while on the force. While living at his sister’s place, he’s mending a fragile marriage. For Sutherland, the blueprint for Ben Carson’s emotional fabric is a piece of cake that requires him to mope, scowl or erupt into outbursts (“Goddammit!”) at a moment’s notice. He’s got us on his side because he’s a blue collar guy just trying to get back on his feet and he does so by taking a security guard gig at the Mayflower – a Macy’s-like department store which burned to a crisp. The former security guard? Well, we know what happened to him.
Ben soon comes to find out, too, and also learns there’s something amiss within the Mayflower. The mirrors there are showing Ben vile visions of burning bodies and tortured souls. They’re also manipulating him, playing terrifying tricks that lead him to believe he’s suffering bodily harm. Aja spends a good deal of time with this set up, embracing Joseph Nemec’s moody production design of the Mayflower interior with its charred mannequins (a subtle nod to the atomic testing village of Hills Have Eyes), dilapidated, blackened displays and towering, pristine mirrors. But the problem is there is far too much of Sutherland wandering around the set and not enough momentum driving the story onward. It settles into a comfortable cycle of: Meandering, a scare gag and Ben recovering from what he’s seen and trying to make sense of it until, finally, another murder occurs – a show-stopping, memorable self-mutilation – and the detective in Ben rises to the surface to investigate what’s behind it all.
Across the board, Mirrors boasts quality in front of and behind the camera. The cast – from Sutherland to Amy Smart and Paula Patton – is solid; the sound design is a rattling, layered piece of work; Maxime Alexandre’s photography is sharp and appropriately impressive within the Mayflower; and Aja threads his tale with all seriousness. But Mirrors‘ problems chew their way out from the script itself, especially in the latter half as Ben’s quest for truth drives him to Pennsylvania in search of a woman where he threatens and old man and, later, levels a gun at a nun. This is only a fraction of the silliness that occurs.
Many flaws surround the logistics of the evil presence lurking in the mirrors. Since its reach extends to any object that gives off a reflection questions arise such as: Why doesn’t the force go searching for what it’s after by itself? It’s not limited to simply the Mayflower mirrors, as evidenced when Ben’s family falls under attack in their home. And how is sound being emitted from the mirrors in the first place? The script breaks its own rules, or I should say, it doesn’t really have any. Furthermore, the story is bogged down by exposition and terribly on-the-nose dialogue. “Stay away from the water, it causes a reflection!” is just the tip of the iceburg.
For a director like Aja, who has built his name on survival horror films and is branching out, Mirrors is an appreciated experiment, but a failed one. A good effort with a troubled screenplay. Being a huge fan of Aja’s work, I’m well aware he can’t knock it out of the park with each and every film. He’ll have his missteps. Mirrors is one of them. But that has not handicapped my excitement for his next endeavor, Piranha, which propels him into creature feature territory. Fingers crossed he’ll be at the top of his game next time.