If mirrors reflect the grotesqueries of the soul, then director Alexandre Aja is enduring a dark night indeed. A grisly and blood-soaked horror thriller, “Mirrors” relies on unnecessary gore and visceral repugnance over genuine scares or credible atmosphere.
The horror genre of late has been dominated by two heinous trends – PG-13 remakes of supernatural Asian movies (“The Grudge” series, “One Missed Call”) and gory R-rated ‘torture porn’ which equates bloody make-up and human suffering with fear (“Saw” series, any Rob Zombie movie). Aja, the man behind the commendable but misguided “Haute Tension” and “The Hills Have Eyes” remake, tries to combine them both with the result only making both style’s shortcomings even more apparent.
Aja’s previous works demonstrated notable potential despite parading his vividly unpleasant appetites. Visually striking, the French auteur has more ability than any of the other ‘splat pack’ members like Eli Roth or Rob Zombie to crossover into stronger and more serious fare. Yet “Mirrors” demonstrates that those morbid undercurrents of his nature remain a dominant force driving his hand, resulting in a production steered with notably less care than his earlier work.
Based on the barely seen South Korean thriller “Into the Mirror”, the story follows all the trademark “Grudge”-style elements. There’s a haunted building, in this case the rotting hulk of a burned down department store; a needlessly convoluted back story of events decades before that our lead must go about investigating; a stupid last few minutes twist that basically cheats the audience; and of course a body count made up of people that he knows, though none have any connection to the supernatural events – thus their targeting by vengeful spirits strikes more as convenient than logical.
Project steers into sanguinary overkill as the corpses pile up. No albino pharyngeal Asian child contortionists on offer here, instead the ghosts are the supporting cast’s own reflections whose personal flagellations are mimicked on their flesh and bone counterparts with voodoo-like efficiency. The results are a bit of self-immolation, at least one jugular evisceration, and the focal set piece in which a naked woman in a bathtub graphically separates her lower jaw from her face with predictable consequences.
Kiefer Sutherland portrays a somewhat less noble and bipolar variation of his “24” character as the former cop and sobered up alcoholic trying to get his life sorted out. Taking on the unenviable job of nightwatchman at this macabre Macy’s for the not so dearly departed, big portions of the film involve a flashlight-wielding Sutherland unconvincingly reacting to reflections and audible hallucinations before he goes beyond the ‘Romania redressed as New York’ sound stages and into location filming for some pedestrian legwork.
As the asinine story of a formerly possessed girl unfolds, and everyone predictably thinks our lead is losing his sanity, narrative transfers over to his former wife (Paula Patton) and her ‘minimally exceptional’ two kids. Patton, like Sutherland and fellow co-stars Amy Smart and Mary Beth Peil, has ably demonstrated much better work which makes her unsupported struggle with the laboured dialogue and unconvincing character more of a chore than had it been with a less adept cast.
Production values are notably paltry, Aja’s eye-catching tapestry has been thinned by Maxime Alexandre’s humdrum camera work and the obviously cobbled together production design. Armed with a larger budget than ever before, Aja’s dynamics and ability to exploit even simple environments to suspenseful effect seems unable to mesh with the more stage-bound interactions of his various characters. An ultimately uninteresting work that serves as a potential low point for one of the more promising genre filmmakers in recent times.