Films like this often make me wonder why people still insist on putting things where they clearly shouldn’t be, building over psychiatric hospitals/Indian burial grounds/portals to hell and so on.
I think we have enough evidence to just say, if something bad happened somewhere it should be levelled (certainly not investigated) before the land is used again. Mirrors is certainly in good company for ignoring such advice.
Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is a New York police detective, currently on suspension and estranged from his family. Desperate to make a living and better his messy personal circumstances he takes a job as a night security guard at a burnt-out department store, The Mayflower.
As Ben starts his shifts there are mysterious occurrences, noises in the basement and he starts to see, and feel, things in the mirrors that can’t be seen in reality.
With the discovery of the previous night security guard’s body, Ben becomes more suspicious, whilst his wife – who is a coroner – starts to doubt his sanity. Nonetheless, it turns out that while Ben seems to be losing his grip on reality, that reality is losing its grip and there is something in the mirrors, something that wants to hurt Ben and his family…
As indicated in the opening sequence Mirrors is a horror film that wants it all, bringing psychological terror and gore, hauntings and palpable pain.
Part of its success in this respect is the combination of CGI and real make-up effects – detailed in the extremely thorough making of featurette on the DVD – which take it to a more affective level that is frequently left behind in favour of computer technology.
That the filmmakers have taken the time to do as much as possible through actual effects makes a significant difference to the tangibility of the horror.
There seems to be a current tendency, particularly in American remakes of Asian horror films of which this is one, to become over-reliant on CGI effects (often particular bad examples of this technology in themselves) which drastically flatten the horror of what is being presented (see One Missed Call, The Ring, The Ring 2).
Significantly Mirrors manages to maintain certain qualities frequently found in Asian horror films (speaking more generally, I haven’t seen the original Korean film – Geoul Sokeuro (Sung-ho Kim, 2003) – this is based on) – ghostly presences, darkened water, children being able to communicate with the other side, flickering images, distorted faces – whilst managing to successfully transplant the narrative into both an American milieu and American traditions of horror.
There was a rather unfortunate tendency towards the later part of the film to rely overly on a kind of rapidly edited and layered effect which offers a flickering presentation of a character’s face – meant to connote madness/evil – which is not as powerful as it could be, and seems to be disappointingly part and parcel of American films based on Asian originals.
The filmmakers claim that they wanted to follow in the footsteps of The Shining (Stanley Kubrick,1980), which is vastly more complex and actually rather terrifying, yet the film that it really reminded me of is the more recent, and well thought of, Session 9 (Brad Anderson, 2001).
Whilst there is a feeling that the film is going down a fairly well trodden path, and there are certainly aspects that are somewhat predictable and overdetermined (though some which are definitely not…) Mirrors has a powerful secret weapon: Kiefer Sutherland. Always good value, he is particularly well cast in this role, and thoroughly plausible as a down on his luck, possibly delusional ex-cop.
Most importantly he manages to make the fact that his character sticks around and continue working at The Mayflower, seem credible enough for the film to work, whilst conveying his mental vulnerabilities without too heavy-handed a touch. He is particularly effective in the moments were he has to Get Something Done, as his investigation takes him off in search of answers.
I should say that the film actually has two secret weapons, because the role of Amy Carson, Ben’s wife, is well developed, allowing the character, and the actress (Paula Patton) a great deal of agency as she protects her children from whatever is lurking on the other side. Indeed, in many ways, Ben seems to be the more vulnerable one, and Amy’s no-nonsense attitude gives the narrative, which is necessarily concerned with two different directions, a balance which holds engagement with both sides successfully.
Whilst director Alexandre Aja and co-writer Grégory Levasseur have certainly built a reputation for particularly bloody violence (their previous films – Switchblade Romance, 2003 and The Hills Have Eyes, 2006 – certainly trade more explicitly on this aspect of horror), but this films seems to be showing their tastes are developing in other directions, which can be no bad thing.
The gory moments, whilst technically very well done, did to some extent feel somewhat overly showy.
Yet there was a crucial level of subtly in dealing with other aspects, specifically family relationships, which could have been explored further and put to good use within the psychological horror vein that took precedence.
Mirrors is one of those rare things, over-the-top flickering and distorted images aside, a remake of an Asian horror film, that feels like a film with a life of its own, with strong male and female characters and moments of horror that are successful because they emerge from a world that is palpably three dimensional. Who knew the appearance of handprint on a mirror could be so creepy?
Additional film information: Mirrors (2008)