Mirrors. 2008. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur; based on the film Into the Mirror by Sung-ho Kim.
Starring Keifer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Julian Glover, and Ezra Buzzington. New Regency Pictures.
Rated 18A. 110 minutes.
For starters, I’ve been an Alexandre Aja fan for a long while now. Ever since I first saw Haute Tension (English titles: High Tension & Switchblade Romance) I thought that Aja had a sense of old school horror in him.
I continue to feel that way. While some people really might not agree, I think even his lesser films have things worth enjoying, worth taking away – sometimes that may just be the effects, parts of the script, or the story. Regardless I think that Aja carries with him some old school horror movie sensibilities in terms of his use of practical effects (though at times he does opt for some shitty CGI I must admit), as well as the stories he chooses to film.
Mirrors is the most supernatural horror that Alexandre Aja and Grégory Levasseur have written together. It still has a bit of a realistic feel because of where the story goes eventually, however, there’s always that strong supernatural vibe going on from start to finish. In this way, it’s a little different from almost anything else that Aja himself has directed (of course since then he’s also done the fantastic Horns).
While it is not particularly great, I think the movie has merit mostly because of a creepy and weird story, and at times amongst some bad CGI effects we’re treated to a handful of really awesome practical make-up effects shots courtesy of Howard Berger, Gregory Nicotero, and some other wizards from KNB.
Ben Carson (Keifer Sutherland) is a former NYPD detective. He killed a man in a shooting some time ago after falling into a downward spiral of alcoholism; disgraced, he retired from the force. He’s cut off from his children most of the time, as his ex-wife Wife (Paula Patton) has custody of them both.
To try and make ends meet, Ben works as a security guard. Now he has a new job as the nightwatchman for the Mayflower Department Store which had been partly wrecked with fire years before. There, he begins to experience strange phenomena. Worse is the fact the last nightwatchman cut his own throat with a piece of glass from a mirror in a subway station bathroom.
Eventually Ben starts to feel as if the mirrors aren’t being looked into – they are looking out. And he does not like what they’ve started to project, as it slowly begins working its way out of the Mayflower Department Store, into him, into his life. Things get worse, until soon enough the things in the mirrors are following Ben home, to the home of his ex-wife and children. Unfortunately for Ben, at first nobody believes him because of the medication he takes while trying to stay off the booze. That all changes once the things in the mirrors reveal themselves to everyone else around him. Then, nobody is safe.
I really do love the opening sequence. An unwritten horror movie rule is that you need one of those opening scenes that POPS, usually a murder – maybe even the murder that begins the whole story. Doesn’t have to be that, but you know what I mean. There are many variants, yet a ton of horror movies all start out that way with a scene that’s meant to get our adrenaline going, getting the terror started. Mirrors does a fine and bloody job of starting things out. A worthy opening scene to the many that have come before it.
Throughout the movie there are definitely a few instances of terrible looking CGI shots. I think that’s overall one of my biggest problems. When you’re doing a supernatural film, especially, you really need to either do practical effects the whole way through, or you’ve got to be able to put up some quality CGI that doesn’t make things feel so fake and awkward.
One of the worst, to me, is when Ben Carson (Sutherland) thinks he’s on fire, looking in the mirror; he drops and rolls around, the fire consuming him all over the length of his body. Though, he is not on fire it’s meant to look and seem very real. In opposition to that, it doesn’t look any bit real. I’m not saying you’ve got to put someone in danger by lighting them on fire to get the shot, but does the alternative have to be awful effects? Either do it right or forego doing it at all. It was like watching Keifer Sutherland wriggle around in a green-screen blanket or something. Really rough to watch.
I don’t want to lay any blame for this scene on Grégory Levasseur especially. Unfortunately for him, Aja had to leave set to be with his wife who’d prematurely gone into labour, so Levasseur took over duties on this scene. I guess ultimately he didn’t have either control or say over the special effects in that scene, but either way he could’ve been part of the problem. He only recently directed The Pyramid, which I enjoyed yet was not great, so at this point in 2008 he probably didn’t have too much experience behind the camera as a director.
With that being said, I’ve got to commend the really well-executed make-up effects on the part of Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger, as well as other artists from the KNB EFX shop. These guys have done so many films and shows, everything from The Walking Dead to Day of the Dead, Misery, Evil Dead II, Phantasm II, and so many more between them all.
A great and classic horror movie death happens in this film. BRIEF SPOILERS AHEAD!
Angela Carson (Amy Smart) dies while in the bathtub: her reflection grabs the top and bottom of her own jaw, starts ripping, tearing it open, upward until the whole thing just starts hanging loose, tongue out, bloody and gore everywhere. The water is full of blood. One of those real gory horror scenes that is enough to satisfy a lot of gorehounds out there! The effects in the beginning as she starts tearing involve a slight drop of CGI, however, the after effects and midway through the process are all practical; looks amazing. I thought so, anyways. Some true gore.
Not a huge fan of the acting, I must say. Mostly it’s only Sutherland who impresses me, and even he doesn’t exactly swing for the fences in a full-fledged, honest effort. I’m not saying he’s bad, at all, I just think that at times he’s a bit too flat. He plays that broken down guy well, there’s no doubt. But it feels like he doesn’t go from one place to another, there’s always this stagnant feeling to the Ben Carson character. Neither is he meant to go and turn into some new person, I just feel like there’s not much range here in Sutherland. Maybe that isn’t his fault, either. Could just be the script from Aja and Levasseur didn’t give Carson enough life on the page. Because I certainly think Sutherland is a good actor – not a fan of his Jack Bauer turn but I love him in Stand by Me, Freeway, A Time to Kill, and more. So he’s capable of range, I just don’t see much of it in the character itself, therefore we don’t see much out of Sutherland. Though, what he is given he plays well. As I said, I buy him as that sort of broken down, washed up/disgraced former cop figure. With that bit, he does what he can.
Otherwise, as I said, no one else truly grabbed me other than a couple of the supporting actors with creepy parts to play. Paula Patton certainly did not do anything for me; I find her bland and could take her or leave her, preferably she’d be left.
By far, my favourite part about Mirrors is the backstory of what’s going on inside the Mayflower Department Store. Once the film gets to the 1 hour 20 minute mark and Ben Carson is starting to unravel the Esseker mystery, this is where things get fairly creepy and unsettling. Not that it’s like blow your socks off scary, I just enjoy the mystery, the creepy moments when Carson goes to see the nun, tracking down information, it’s all pretty disturbing. I dig that whole final half hour. It’s by no means perfect, but it has that macabre backwoods element which I really love. To tell you the truth, I could’ve gone for a prequel where Aja explored the origin story in fuller detail, showing the Esseker girl and the lead-up to everything, her ‘possession’ or what not and that whole angle. The execution leaves something to be desired, all the same I thought Aja and Levasseur did a decent job with the story as opposed to the lacklustre work they did with dialogue and character development.
In the end, I’ll give Mirrors a 3 out of 5 stars. It’s not the worst of what Alexandre Aja has to offer, however, I also can’t say it’s one of his best. A mid-range effort on his part. Mostly, it’s the CGI and nonsense in the plot that throws me off, coupled with not a whole lot of stellar acting. The writing could’ve been done much better. There’s not only bad dialogue, there is a major lack of character development, as well as just some parts that didn’t feel to make a whole lot of sense even when it comes to the movie’s own internal logic. The finale was my favourite part, yet even some points there I said to myself “Hmm what?” and didn’t exactly feel like things went where they needed to go ultimately.
Also the ending sets things up for a sequel. I hate that. You can go for a downbeat, horrific ending that doesn’t have to be a lead-in to a sequel, which it feels like here. This would’ve worked with a haunting, open end but instead it’s like Aja just wanted to set it up so that someone else could spin this into another film.
Aside from those points that I thought were lacking, or were downright bad, I do enjoy the backstory of the film. There’s a lot of creepy things going on in that story and even if they were not represented as accurately and effectively as possible to maximize the horror/terror in the final product, I still think Aja did a decent job at trying to draw out some of the creepiness that was there. All in all, this is not something I’ll probably watch again, though, I did enjoy it enough to seek it out to review it and then watch it for a second time. This will be my last. I much prefer Aja’s remake of the Wes Craven classic The Hills Have Eyes, his French gore horror masterpiece High Tension and his film adaptation of Joe Hill’s novel Horns, and still there are a good deal who think the latter of those two is garbage; maybe some even don’t like the first. But me, I love Aja, and even though this is far from a great horror, I still give him credit for trying to instil a bit of old school-ness into his films, whether it be classic style supernatural ghost story stuff or the presence of some wild practical make-up effects.
Just search elsewhere to find his best work, you aren’t going to find it in this film.