Sunday, January 25, 2009

CULT MOVIE REVIEW: Mirrors (2008)

Mirror, mirror on the wall, what's the most disappointing Asian horror remake of all?

Well, you guessed it, didn't you? It's Alexandre Aja's Mirrors, a lugubrious and turgid re-crafting of the 2003 Korean genre effort, Into The Mirror.

Aja's unimaginative, slow-moving regurgitation depicts the story of suspended NYPD detective, Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland), a man suffering from post-traumatic stress after killing a man on the job.

Now, Carson is estranged from his wife, Amy (Paula Patton) and their two cute-as-button children, and attempting to beat his alcoholism. While living with his sister, Angie (Amy Smart), Carson takes a job at a burned-down old department store in Manhattan, The Mayflower, and patrols the premises as the new nightwatchman. The last nightwatchman, Gary Lewis, was murdered in a subway.

Very quickly, Carson begins to see horrible, traumatic visions reflected in the Mayflowers' over sized and ubiquitous mirrors. These reflections are not simply horrifying, they are actually murderous, and come to haunt Carson over a period of nights. Of course, his disbelieving friends and family think he's officially a nutcase.

When the demonic mirrors threaten Carson's family, he sets off on an investigative quest to locate a mysterious woman named "Anna Esseker," believing that she may hold the key to resolving the crisis.

So basically, if you saw The Ring (2002), you've seen Mirrors.

In both cases, an imperiled protagonist faces a supernatural threat that endangers children. In both cases, the evil originates with an apparently-evil little girl in a mental hospital (Samara in The Ring; Anna Esseker here); and in both cases, the evil spreads like a contagion...either via videotape or, as here, in the looking glass. Both films involve a kind of "investigation" into a dark and troubled personal history, one that leads to revelations from the Evil One's family members and old, forgotten medical records.

But the derivative and wholly-predictable narrative represents the least of Mirrors' problems. As is the case in such inferior films as The Eye, the real deal-breaker here is a total lack of internal consistency. I hasten to add that in horror films of the rubber reality venue -- in which consensus reality is shaken and stretched -- internal consistency is absolutely vital.

To provide two brief examples: Freddy Krueger must obey the laws of the "dream world" in A Nightmare on Elm Street. The dream world is key to his power...and his defeat. And Pinhead in Hellraiser is tied to the Lament Configuration puzzle box. He doesn't just show up when he wants to. Hands don't call him; desire does. In these (and other) rubber reality films, the filmmaker establishes the overarching rules of the battlefield, and sticks to them (with surprises included...), so that audiences can understand the threat...and more importantly, accept the resolution.

Create a rubber reality world with no rules, with no internal consistency, and it's all just...phantasmagoria. There can be no adequate resolution because the parameters of Evil's power have not been established, let alone sufficiently explained.

Take for instance, the monster in Mirrors. It adopts the form of reflections, as people wander by the reflecting skin of the mirror. Once it captures your "image," it can kill you...by killing your image, your reflection. We see this dynamic played out in the gory prologue. Gary Lewis spies his reflection in a mirror. Then, the reflection version of himself slits his throat. But the wounds show up on Gary, as well as on the reflection, and the real man bleeds to death.

Okay, so that's the rule. You see your image die; you die.

But then, Mirrors changes its mind. In one scene, Ben sees his reflection in a mirror as it draws a gun and shoots him at point blank range! But it's just an illusion. Ben doesn't get shot. So a mirror glass shard (the thing that killed Gary) is real, but the mirror bullet fired by the mirror Kiefer is not? This kind of thing happens again and again in the film. Early on, Sutherland relives a horrible conflagration and sees his reflection catch fire. But he's actually fine. Just his reflection burned up. Again, different rules at different times.

Another example is the utterly ridiculous scene involving Angela's murder. We watch actress Amy Smart standing in front of her bathroom mirror. She leaves the sink, but her diabolical reflection creepily remains in the mirror, watching her take a bath. Then, the mirror version of Angela rips off her own jaw (I know, it plays as stupidly as it reads...) and so the real Angela's jaw falls off too!

Now, she wasn't even looking in the mirror when this horror happened! So, you look in the mirror...just once and it gets you? You don't need to be in the proximity, or watching? Or even have your eyes open? If that's the case, then why do Kiefer and his family spend so much time in the film painting over all the mirror surfaces in Amy's house? I mean, the mirrors have already seen Amy and the kids by this time, right? What's the point?

Which leads me, alas, to a fairly significant instance of the movie's general incoherence. Let me explain with a little background. A long time ago, little Anna Esseker was possessed by a flesh and blood demon. The monster was finally "exorcised" into mirrors. Now, over fifty years later, the demon in the mirror is haunting men like Ben Carson and Gary Lewis because it wants them to locate Anna Esseker and, for lack of a better word, re-possess her.

So, what we have here is a demon who is virtually invincible. He lives not merely ensconced in the mirrors of a department store, but he can travel to any mirror, anywhere in the world, apparently (including those in subways and family homes). In these mirrors, the demon can make people kill themselves even if he catches sight of them just once (like Angela), and his victims don't even have to be looking at a mirror to be under the demon's evil sway (again Angela). Furthermore, the demon can't be destroyed, because the mirrors all magically heal after being shot at, cracked, or thumped with furniture.

And heck, it isn't just mirrors where the demon can live. It also thrives in pools of water...which also reflect images.

But this all-powerful demon desires to trade this existence -- this invincibility -- for the frail physical, flesh-and-blood body of an elderly nun (Anna Esseker), so that Kiefer Sutherland can beat that body, burn that body, shoot that body, and perforate it with a boiler room pipe?

Okay. If you believe that, I have a bridge I'd like to sell you. The demon finally gets back into Anna's body and about two minutes later gets killed. Be careful what you wish for, I guess.

See how the movie's logic does not survive even the slightest bit of scrutiny? The result is that you begin to mentally check out of the proceedings fairly quickly.

Even the small details seem off. For instance, how does the dead night watchmen, Gary Lewis, send Ben Carson a package, via UPS half-way through the movie? No only has Gary Lewis never met Ben (and even if he knew his name, how would Gary know Ben's address?) But again - hello movie! -- Gary died in the movie's first scene, before Ben took the night watchman job!

I didn't know UPS was now making deliveries straight from Hell.


Character motivation is way, way off in Mirrors too. The nun, Esseker, is totally resistant to helping Ben resolve the crisis. Not once but twice she refuses to help him. even after looking at a photo of Carson's cute kids. The only way she'll go back to the Mayflower (or Matthews Hospital...) is at gunpoint, actually. Then, just one scene later, she's miraculously leading the charge. She gets to the Mayflower and is totally on-board, ready to sacrifice her life, barking orders at Ben about what, precisely, to do to summon the demon.

There's a scene missing here: the one in which Esseker "embraces" the mission and isn't just Ben's hostage. Without that scene, her sudden and inexplicable change of heart is just another "what the fuck?" moment in a film full of them. Why not offer us the bread crumb of one token scene in which Esseker ponders her vows, their meaning, and then has a change of heart? May we have one line of dialogue to that effect, Mr. Aja? Please?

Also, ask yourself this question: why doesn't Ben ever lead any of the doubting thomases in his life (friends and family) to the Mayflower and simply shoot the mirrors there in front of witnesses? Nobody believes him that the mirrors self-repair, and so he attempts to prove it by shooting another mirror...at Amy's house. Which, of course, doesn't self-repair and therefore makes him look more like a raving lunatic.

Well, why not call the demon's bluff, and go back to the Mayflower with an entourage of witnesses and shoot those mirrors? Either result in that case would have been a positive one for Ben. Think about this logically for a second. Either: a.) the demonic mirror wouldn't have called his bluff, and would have therefore been destroyed by the gunshots, or b.) the mirror would have indeed self-repaired, and Ben would have had the hard evidence of his story in the form of eyewitness accounts.

Mirrors is doubly disappointing, I suppose, given the level of talent involved. Kiefer Sutherland boasts a long, distinguished connection with the genre. From The Lost Boys (1987) to Flatliners (1990) to Dark City (1998), the actor has done particularly well with horror and dark imaginings. But seven years of 24 has apparently rubbed off on him. In his first post-Jack Bauer horror film Sutherland plays...Jack Bauer. There's a really off-moment here in which Ben threatens the nun at gunpoint, and, well, all you see is Jack on his latest mission. All that's missing here is Chloe.

And Aja? Aja, Aja, Aja...


I deeply respected High Tension (2005), even if I felt that the third act was a narrative cheat. And I have no hate in my heart for his remake of The Hills Have Eyes (2006). It's one remake I enjoy, to tell you the truth. But Mirrors represents the director's nadir. It's his most undistinguished and disappointing work. There is nothing - nothing at all - to mark this film belonging to Aja. Nothing to delineate it as special, different, inventive, original or even particularly frightening. Mirrors is pretty much on a par with low-rent garbage like One Missed Call or The Eye.

I'm especially saddened that a premise so rife with potential is rendered so mind-numbingly stupid by a filmmaker as clearly talented as Aja remains. The idea of reflections, of "doubles," and of opposites, is one that could be quite powerful. Not to mention quite revealing in terms of human psychology. Lip service is paid to the concept here, but that's it.

Offhand, I can think of two films that do much better with the concept of mirrors as "portals of evil." The first is John Carpenter's underrated but utterly brilliant Prince of Darkness (1987). It gets the concepts right, using the mirror as the universe of the Anti-God.

And the other film is a terrible movie, Poltergeist III (1988). But here's the thing: as bad and as stupid as Poltergeist III surely is, the director there meticulously crafted all of his mirror scenes with doubles, with two-sided sets (the "mirror" in the middle bisecting it), and so there was a physicality and reality to the threat. Actors playing horrific reflections had to carefully mimic performances. In Mirrors, Aja takes the easy route and relies almost entirely on CGI.

Bad CGI, I should add. It's not just in the mirrors, either: it's everywhere. An early shot of the gothic Mayflower department store digitally inserted into modern Manhattan is unbelievably fake. Look, if you can't even manage a believable establishing shot of your primary location, how are you going to suspend disbelief for almost two hours?


Short answer...Aja doesn't.

I'm afraid the director of Mirrors is the one who needs to spend some time in front of a mirror. Aja needs to take a hard, long look at himself and figure out what he's doing wrong. If Mirrors is truly the best he's got, we're all in for seven years of bad luck, I guess...

3 comments:

  1. Anonymous10:33 PM

    the ending is the biggest "what the fuck" moment. It made the
    Movie not worth seeing. Is there a sequel coming? If not then that leaves another big disappointment.

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  2. I just saw the movie. It was the dumbest movie I have seen, tho many of the scenes were indeed good enough to scare my little cousins. I thought it was awkward with the name - Why was it not carved backwards? They saw everything backwards, and all that. I don't know, maybe I am overlooking it or something, but honestly, a WTF moment.

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  3. Anonymous5:50 PM

    I liked the movie. True it wasn't perfect but nothing is. When you said, why coundn't the guy bring someone back to the mayflower (like his wife) and show them how the mirrors regenerate themselves, the mirrors would probably kill who ever it was he brought. Aslo the fact that the way that the mirrors killed you was inconsittent just made the movie scaryer. Monsters and demons don't follow rules, they can kill you in what ever way they want.

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