Directed by Alexandre Aja, 2008, 106 mins., starring Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart, Jason Flemyng, and Mary Beth Peil.
Just when you thought the Hollywood craze over remaking Asian horror might have died off completely after the disappointing box office performances of One Missed Call and Shutter, it looks like a few stray leftovers are still popping up out of the woodwork. We have yet to endure the supposed travesty that is the A Tale of Two Sisters remake The Uninvited, and with the previously mentioned duds, things aren't looking good. But unlike the post-The Ring fanfare that usually followed Hollywood remakes of Asian films, most of these more recent movies have had little or no buzz, at times barely even mentioning their Eastern origins, as if what was once a successful marketing ploy has now become a veritable kiss of death at the box office.
So color me surprised to find out that Mirrors is actually a remake of the Korean film Into The Mirror, a movie that I not only saw but actually reviewed for this site. With the little promotion I saw for the film, there was no mention of it being a remake of any kind. Even while watching the opening credits of the film, the obligatory "based on" mention was missing (it later makes an appearance as a small byline in the end credits). Perhaps it’s the film’s way of distancing itself from its not-too-well-known source material, or simply an attempt at making itself come across as an original story, since nobody stays for the end credits anyway.
Directed by suspense/horror wunderkind of sorts Alexandre Aja, with Mirrors he does attempt to create something different from what he has done before. The graphic displays of brutality in his films Haute Tension and The Hills Have Eyes remake are largely absent from this piece (perhaps much to the chagrin of his die-hard fans); instead he opts here for a more classic ghost-storytelling approach. Penning the film with his writing partner Gregory Levasseur, the pair do their best to improve on the source material, which was essentially an unlauded and rather lacklustre supernatural crime drama. Translating it for a broader, hack-and-slash market was perhaps the biggest obstacle the two had to face in bringing this film to an American audience. But seeing as Mr. Aja's Hills was the main marketing point for this film, the studio clearly wanted to capture that same target audience, despite it clearly not having been made for them. Granted, there are a couple of gory scenes to satisfy the carnage-hungry, but the whole idea of the film is almost a direct opposition of his previous works. This leads me to wonder why Aja and company chose this as their project. Remaking an Asian horror film these days is risky enough, but a little-known one at that just seems odd.
What's interesting is that the film does attempt to differentiate itself from Into The Mirror, at times almost deliberately. A burnt down department store in place of a sleek remodeled one. Replacing a vengeful ghost with an otherworldly entity. Creepily dark in place of brightly lit. It seems like the filmmakers did all these things differently for the mere sake of being different. And while it may have worked in the context of the story they were telling, it all seems contrived and inorganic. Almost as if they could scare up more, well, scares if 80% of the film was in darkness. Yet while attempting to be almost the polar opposite of the original, the film strangely then becomes a copycat of several other films. Take your pick – The Ring, Silent Hill, Session 9, Dark Water, The Exorcist… the list goes on and on. And I refuse to accept the argument there aren’t any original ideas in horror anymore. But sadly, Aja and company aren't doing groundbreaking work here; they've merely created yet another disposable horror flick to stock video store shelves with, or let boyfriends cop a feel in a darkened theater.
"What if the mirrors are reflecting something that's beyond our reality? "
Jack Bauer… sorry, Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is not doing so well. A former detective that left the force due to a work-related casualty, he is now addicted to pills, estranged from his wife Amy (Paula Patton) and two children, and living with his much younger sister, Angela (Amy Smart). And it's gotta be at least a twenty-year age gap between the two, 'cos I refuse to believe Kiefer’s trying to pass for 35 ;-) It seems the only work available to him is a night shift security guard at a burnt down building that used to be a glamorous shopping mall in downtown Manhattan (or, in this case Romania, subbing for Manhattan). Meeting the day shift guard and giving him the tour on his first day, he is unfazed by the creepy remains that he must look after, even after learning that the site once housed a hospital back in the day. Hey, a job's a job. One thing he does notice is the multitude of mirrors mounted on almost every wall. And clean ones at that. He inquires about these and is told that his predecessor cleaned them almost religiously. Guess he must've loved his reflection just a little too much.
Pretty soon, he’s roving the halls, checking for vandals and vagrants I suppose, and notices weird things starting to happen. Handprints on the mirrors that won't wipe off. Figures bursting into flames all around him, himself included. And a particularly heart-stopping encounter in the ladies fitting area that doesn't exactly involve a size 10 trying to fit into a size 2. All this obviously bothers our hero, which causes him to act strangely around his little sis, who in turn chalks it up to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. And you know what happens in horror movies to those who are skeptical – they bite the dust, or in poor Angela's case, opens wide. Real wide. But not before the obligatory nudie shot which still surprised me that Amy Smart agreed to do. The death of his sister surely pushes Ben over the edge and he becomes convinced that the mirrors in the store are responsible. He tries to confront them and asks, not entirely sensibly, "What do you want from me?" only to be responded by cracks in the glass spelling out "Esseker". Well, it'd probably get you quite a few Scrabble points on a triple word score, but otherwise Jack, I mean Kiefer, I mean Ben, is naturally a bit bemused.
Ben then investigates the origin of the fire and discovers the man responsible for starting it actually survived, and left behind a video testimony saying that he did it to destroy the mirrors because he failed to do what they asked of him - find "Esseker". Ben puts two and two together and realizes that ALL mirrors are dangerous and decides to go to his wife's home and do something about it. As you do. Naturally, his family is looking at him all crazy man and throws him out.
Determined that this unknown Esseker person is the key to all this, Ben enlists the help of his cop buddy (Jason Flemyng) to dig up anything on that name, perhaps from the time period when the store was still a hospital. Jackpot! A patient named Anna Esseker was admitted when she was a little girl and supposedly died there during a horrible massacre. Conveniently enough, another document saying that she was released from the hospital 2 days before the alleged massacre was in the same file. Well, how ‘bout that! Only way to get to the bottom of things is to go and investigate the Esseker family home, where he finds out that "little" Anna was in fact scaaaaaary Anna, prone to bursts of violence, distemper and frightening bug-eyes. After trying all sorts of exorcisms and solitary confinement including locking her up in the basement, a fancy New York doctor comes and takes her away for treatment with – you guessed it – mirrors. Apparently, it worked, but soon enough strange things started to happen – in the mirrors!
After some mild threatening from Ben towards the surviving family members about Anna's current whereabouts, they confess that she has fled to a place where there were "no mirrors" – a monastery. Well, I suppose vanity is a deadly sin, after all ;-)
Back at Casa de Carson, Amy freaks when she sees her son's reflection in the mirror where her son isn't and finally believes Ben. He rushes home after her frantic call and gets rid of all the mirrors and reflective surfaces. Does that mean she needs to powder her forehead every five minutes too? Anyways, Ben then rushes off to the monastery where Anna may or may not be at. What exactly does she have to do with all the mirror madness that has all of a sudden plagued Ben Carson and family? Will he unravel the mystery and save his family from this reflective evil, or will he and his loved ones have to face a lifetime of bad hair days and poorly applied make-up?
Make no mistake, the film had potential. There are some genuinely creepy moments here and there. The dressing room encounter comes to mind. And little bits and pieces where Ben goes a-walking in the dark and hears things also have some major creep factors. Then there's the Anna Esseker flashback sequences, which could give you some serious shivers if you let them. But with the incessant bird-flapping and purposefully murky cinematography in the films first few minutes, it's almost a chore to keep yourself from rolling your eyes.
It’s almost as if the film makers didn't go all in with the ideas they wanted. Maybe they're saving the best for the Unrated DVD, or maybe Aja's desire to make a radical departure from his usual style of filmmaking had him self-vetoing some of the more gory possibilities he could have explored. All I know is that with a not-so-interesting premise you could do one of two things: create a palpable, pea-soup-thick atmosphere of dread and fear and leave things to the viewers' imagination, or go balls-out and shock the living hell out of 'em with disturbingly graphic imagery. Mirrors merely settles for the mediocre middle, which is what makes it unmemorable. It is in no way, and pun very much intended, shattering.
Snowblood Apple Rating for this film:
Entertainment Value: 6/10
Acting: Jack Bauer/DAMMIT!!!!!!
Gore: 6/10. Open wide and say aaaAAAAARRRGGHH!!!! ;-)
Violence: not anywhere near enough
Bug Eyes: where's Shugo Oshinari when you need him? ;-)
Charcoal: enough to cook 1,000,000,000,000 sausages on the average BBQ
Films in a Similar Style: The Ring, Dark Water, The Eye, One Missed Call, Shutter, Pulse... oh hell, all US remakes of Asian films. Why leave any of them out? ;-)
*** Not great, not crap, just... y'know. Yeah. ***
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Snowblood Apple Filmographies
http://www.shocktillyoudrop.com/films.php?id=1344 - trailers aplenty
http://video.about.com/movies/Alexandre-Aja-Interview.htm - interview with Aja about the movie and future projects including Piranha 3-D
http://blogs.amctv.com/monsterfest/2008/08/mirrors-review.php - positive review at AMC Horror Hacker
http://www.allmoviephoto.com/photo/2008_mirrors_010.html - small collection of stills from the movie
http://www.aintitcool.com/?q=node/37947 - AICN seemed to like it better than we did, despite swearing an awful lot...
http://www.brutalashell.com/?p=659 - ...however, Annie Riordan at Brutal As Hell tore it a new one...
http://www.chud.com/articles/articles/15978/1/REVIEW-MIRRORS/Page1.html - ... as did Devin Faraci of CHUD.com...
http://www.avclub.com/articles/mirrors,2813/ - and the Onion tore into it as well XD
http://www.metacritic.com/video/titles/mirrors - Metacritic offers a wide range of soundbite opinions, most of them pretty negative