(2008) dir. Alexandre Aja
I’d been watching so many really good films lately, I felt like I needed to take a break. So I queued up a couple of guranteed groaners hoping to get a little variety in my viewing and writing. It’s kind of exhausting being effusive all the time.
Directed by French filmmaker Alexandre Aja, whose films, breakthrough High Tension (2003) and his first American foray The Hills Have Eyes (2006) re-make, put him on the “splat-pack” map, comes up with this convoluted horror film, based on or inspired by a more obscure Korean film. Mirrors. You’re already sweating in fear, right?
Film has played with mirrors since the onset of cinema. And many of this film’s primal scare images are things we’ve seen before. A sudden glance in the mirror when the mirror reflects something different than it should. A distorted version of a face. A kid who stays seated when the actual kid has gotten up and walked away. And a woman who rips her jaw apart in the mirror. That sort of stuff. Actually, Poltergeist (1982) had a scene where the guy picks his face to a pile of meat. We have, gore aside or not, seen this stuff many times before.
And the story is pretty convoluted too. A psych-ward hospital that became a monster department store. In the middle of New York City. And schizophrenia or possession? Well, it turns out to be the less interesting of the two.
The thing that is the most off-kilter in the film is Kiefer Sutherland’s character. He’s an ex-cop who takes a job as a security guard in the burned-out remnants of this massive building. He’d shot and killed someone, became an alcoholic, left his family, is being treated assumingly for depression, trying to get his life together. And then suddenly, all the mirrors in the world can kill him and everyone in his life. Jeez. When it rains it pours.
There is a scene in which he returns to his family’s home and removes the endless number of reflective surfaces in the house or paints over them. To me, this is pretty paranoid behavior. Why would anyone believe him that the mirrors are evil? He even unloads a clip into a mirror outside the suburban home to demonstrate (failingly) that the mirror will heal itself. Okay, a guy pulls out a gun in the suburb, shoots a mirror, and has been under stress. Shouldn’t you call the cops? For his safety as well as others?
Well, it only takes one odd mirror incident to convince his wife: “Why didn’t I believe you?” But what about the rest of the world? Sutherland goes forth and kidnaps a nun at gunpoint to solve the problem and save his family. Where’s the APB? This guy is a psycho. And frankly, it might have been a lot more interesting if he just was plain old crazy. He can’t tell the difference between reality and reflection and fantasy.
Oh but there is a demon and he was right all along. It’s convoluted, as I said. It’s not scary in the least. And I also found the art design of the department store a little wishful. A blazing fire killed some 30 people and destroyed most of the building, but there are mannequins galore, all artfully singed or scorched, but still sitting or standing in provocative poses, suggesting figures or people while really just being decor. They should be more melted than scorched, I would think. And wouldn’t someone have cleaned up a little?
You are not supposed to question plausibility in many films, and certainly, there are times when it’s good to throw reality to the wind and just roll with things. But too much of this film relies on you needing to believe or care about what is going on. And it’s just silly.