Friday, January 29, 2016

Found Footage Friday: The Mirror (2014)

The British-made The Mirror is a found-footage variation of horror films about haunted mirrors such as Uli Lommel’s The Boogeyman (1980) and the recent Oculus (2014).

In The Mirror a trio of young adults fall prey to a deadly looking glass that that begins to change one of their number in incremental and insidious fashion. He goes from nice guy to possessed, sleep-walking maniac.

So yes, you’ve probably seen this particular story before.

But here’s the rub: You may not have seen this story told in same fashion that The Mirror tells it. And since there are no original stories, only original approaches to familiar stories, you might find this one worth a look. You can ignore the movie's tag-line -- "Don't Look" -- and give this one a spin.

I’ve gone through a lot of found footage movies in the last two years. Some are brilliant, some are downright dreadful (Buck’s County Massacre), and some, if not ultra-memorable or incredibly scary, get the job done and are worth at least one watch. 

I’d judge The Mirror eminently worthy of a watch. The performances are surprisingly good, the premise -- without being heavy-handed -- critiques our modern, money-obsessed culture, and the film features a nice slow-build towards terror and a very personal apocalypse.

The clichés of the format are all firmly in place here too, rest assured, but watching The Mirror once won’t turn your mind to mush or make you hate yourself for getting duped.

“We have to film all the time!”

In The Mirror, three young people in the UK -- Jemma (Jemma Dallender), Steve (Nate Fallows) and Matt (Joshua Dickinson) -- decide to enter the One Million Dollar Paranormal Challenge sponsored by James Randi’s Educational Foundation.

After scouring E-Bay, they purchase an old mirror that the previous owner claims is authentically haunted. 

The mirror is hung in Steve and Matt’s flat, and a video camera watches it 24/7 for signs of occult activity.

Jemma, who doesn’t believe in ghosts, begins to grow concerned, however, when Steve -- who has had psychic experiences in the past -- begins to experience strange changes in his character.

“Come on, scare me.”

If you step back from the narrative a little, The Mirror is all about people who desire to get rich quick. They desire this goal so deeply, in fact, that they “stir the pot,” and play a dangerous game with a haunted relic.

Instead of saving their money, instead of working extra jobs, Jemma, Steve and Matt bring something terrifying into their house....all for material gain. 

In effect, they hope to win the lottery. 

But one of their number, Steve, has a personal history that raises questions about the existence of the supernatural. He seems especially susceptible to paranormal or psychic experiences. So for him, this devil’s bargain is even worse than it may appear to be.

Thus it would be as though an alcoholic -- in order to win a million dollars -- agrees to bring home a refrigerator full of booze. That liquor would keep calling, keep pulling him in, jeopardizing his health and long-term survival?

Is that a good deal?

None of this is leitmotif is handled in a heavy-handed or preachy way, but I find it intriguing that the end goal here is not a noble one (like gathering evidence of life after death, as in The Haunting [1963]).

Rather the goal is to pad one’s wallet.

The prominent presence of E-Bay (a commerce site) and a million dollar contest in the film adds to this notion that The Mirror is actually reflecting something unpleasant about these normal-seeming young adults. 

They desire a short-cut in life, even if they must jeopardize their safety, and even their lives, to get it.

The Mirror raises some questions of logic and consistency that are difficult to put aside. For instance, why doesn’t Jemma rush Steve to the doctor when he begins to develop debilitating head-aches, or when he starts sleep-walking, or when he wakes up in the morning with one eye completely bloodshot?

These are all warning signs, no?

I fear a low budget is the problem here, impacting the film’s overall effectiveness. 

The Mirror is set almost entirely in the flat (save for a couple exterior murder sprees…), and while that creates a commendable sense of claustrophobic tension, the “outside” world is still there, and can be accessed. 

Jemma, reasonably, would and could get medical help (even an ambulance…) for her increasingly whacked-out boyfriend.

Much of The Mirror’s plot also relies on the tropes or clichés of the found footage format. There are scenes here involving green night vision (de rigueur in films of this type), confessional video diaries, and so forth. 

There’s also a regurgitation of a popular found footage closing shot: the cockeyed camera.  

As is the case in The Blair Witch Project (1999), in The Mirror the camera-person ultimately comes to an unfortunate end while the device itself continues filming. A cockeyed shot indicates no one is at home anymore. The footage is on automatic. Running by itself.

Beyond found-footage convention, The Mirror also re-uses the horror movie cliché of the relic that -- even when destroyed -- returns home to vex its former owner. Here, a character takes a sledge-hammer to the looking glass, smashing it completely. 

When he returns to the flat, it’s hanging on the wall like nothing ever happened to it.

If you’re a fan of the found-footage format, The Mirror features some good scares, some good characterizations, and a nice-re-tooling of the evil mirror trope.

When one character assumes the mirror is a fake, for instance it is noted that the item is a “rip off.” 

The same conclusion is not true for The Mirror, the film. It gets the job done with just enough intelligence and vigor to be worth the avid horror film fan's time and attention.

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