Saturday, August 16, 2008

So Many Mirrors, Such Excessive Time

The second best movie this year revolving around people brutally committing suicide, Mirrors, directed by Alexandre Aja, is plenty crazy enough to stick with to the end though it rarely gives any dramatic reason to keep watching. At its best (which is not often enough), Mirrors strongly invokes Dario Argento’s wild supernatural spirit and, like Argento’s best films, is driven by its distinctive visuals. Although less impressive here than in his previous features, Aja is, without a doubt, a playful master of a classic horror style. Unfortunately, his scriptwriting (and, perhaps, his editor) fails to have the same flair. Mirrors contains all the elements necessary for a great horror story, but never really sets up a mystery for the audience to follow. Its characters have moments of revelation, but, other than a few good scares, the audience get none. That may sound a bit pointless in regards to a slick horror movie, but 110 minutes with too few thrills and no narrative drive is a really long time.

Transmuted from the Korean horror film Into The Mirrors (Sung-ho Kim, 2003), Mirrors stars Kiefer Sutherland as 24’s Jack Bauer, who has changed his name for the purposes of this movie to Ben Carson. After a traumatic incident at the NYPD (“I killed a man!”), Ben, separated from his wife and children, gets a new job as a night watchman at a decrepit, mostly burned down department store. Ben begins seeing gruesome images of people in the mirrors who quickly begin to endanger everyone that Ben knows, most importantly his family. ("Look at their picture! LOOK AT THEIR PICTURE!!!")

This is a pretty standard set up for what, more or less, is a pretty standard horror movie. Mirrors is practically screaming for some mirror-stage psychoanalytic content, but, other than one brief discussion, it never comes up. Rather, Aja and his excellent cinematographer Maxime Alexandre cram as many mirrors and reflections per square frame inch as possible. As visually stimulating as this is, Mirrors is overcrowded with those mirrors. The mirrors lose their horrific commodity when every table, door knob, floor, drop of water, clock face, glass cup, bottle, eyelid, store front, and, yes, mirror, is an access point for the spirits within the mirrors. Mirrors has to turn to choppy fast editing to rebuild the spooks it loses by making mirrors so normal. With more visual control and less showcasing of their talent, Aja and Alexandre could have better reflected the terror in Mirrors.

Used perhaps to offset these faults (or subversively add to them) is Keifer Sutherland’s performance. Sutherland’s overly aggressive acting certainly doesn’t help matters in building tension and creating a balance between high and low moments, something that is crucial to the horror genre. The uber-seriousness is hard to handle next to the relatively controlled emotions of everyone else in the film. Even its moments of extreme violence are no match for Sutherland’s confrontation with a nun late in the film. That said, Sutherland’s hyper-emotion gives Mirrors a sense of urgency and energy that the film lacks otherwise. As much as Sutherland’s charicature seems to be off balance with the rest of the film, it is hard to imagine Mirrors working at all without it.

Despite its many failings, when Mirrors works it really works well. Aja is still developing as a director and, even with the visual overkill, Mirrors is certainly better than most horror movies you will see this year (assuming you go to a few.) This is made remarkably clear in its totally perfunctory horror movie conclusion; the scene is so smart and brilliantly executed that you will swear you just watched a better movie than Mirrors ends up being.

by James Hansen


Anonymous said...

I'm bummed to hear that "Mirrors" isn't as great as I was hoping, but I'm pretty psyched that you tagged "Jack Bauer" before you did "Kiefer Sutherland" for the post. Even without having seen the film, I think it's pretty safe to say that there weren't enough explosions.

James Hansen said...

Maybe not "enough" but there were plenty near the should go see it. You'll get a kick out of it.

James Hansen said...

Also, the tags are put in alphabetical order no matter when I type them in. That's why Jack comes before Kiefer...funny to spot though.

Nostalgia Kinky said...

I saw it last night and liked it better than you did although I agree that the script was lacking and this is the weakest thing he has done so far. Still, I think Aja is one of the great modern visual sylists and like you said when this film works, it works extremely well.
The last scene really floored me...expertly handled and perfectly crafted. Nice score as well...I hope he goes totally balistic with his PIRANHA remake and then steps away from these retreads and delivers another original project as intense as HIGH TENSION.

James Hansen said...

Glad to get the comment, Jeremy, I remembered that you liked Aja a lot so I saw interested what your take on the film would be. I really do think it is amazing that the last scene works so well. Shooting from that extraordinarily high angle to play on the fact that he should be shot low to look stronger after escaping...the mirror image works so effectively, not only in horror but a smart play with filmic technique as well. What a great scene.

I still can't get over all the repetitiveness and lack of mystery for the viewer, but I still enjoyed it (and apparently a lot more than some people.) And who knows, the Piranha remake may very well kick ass. I just hope his visuals get accompanied by a stronger script (as in High Tension) or in a great metaphor that didn't need much of a script (as in The Hills Have Eyes).

Thanks for the comment!