Posted by Peter Hall - August 20th 2008 @ 10:54 am

Directed by Alexandre Aja, 2008
Written by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur, based on INTO THE MIRROR

Looking into mirrors we tend to only see our flaws reflected back.  Not me of course.  I am a fucking Adonis, but I understand the effect self inspection has on normal people.  How appropriate, then, that when we all look into MIRRORS we see nothing but flaws.  Except this time they aren’t (y)our flaws, they’re Alexandre Aja’s.  And I must confess, it is quite annoying to do nothing but stare at other people’s flaws for near two hours.  At least the audience can walk outside and go jogging or drop and do a few push ups.  No director’s cut is going to salvage this junior slump.

Which is a shame.  Not just because I once called Aja the future of horror (yeah, yeah, we all say silly stuff when we’re young) and I need an out to cover that mistake.  Despite all its misgivings, an easy 25+ minutes of bloated length, stale performances, despite all that, there are times one must remind themselves they are watching a movie about mirrors that kill people.  I have a ton of suggestions for how such a premise could be improved, however, I posit this: Was anyone ever going to take a movie about killer mirrors seriously?

Even with any hypothetical improvements a goofy ass premise remains.  It doesn’t help that Keifer Sutherland plays the lead with same frenetic fervor as his intrinsically tied USA saving, terrorist decimating alter personality.  Hard enough as it is to take a movie about homicidal two dimensional planar objects earnestly.  MIRRORS is done no favors by Jack Bauer running around with a gun screaming punchlines along the vein of, “Don’t look at the water!  Water can form a reflective surface just like a mirror and that’s how they get you!”

Sutherland plays a cop, Ben Carson, taken off the force for accidentally gunning down an undercover officer.  Worn from that emotional toll, Carson has become estranged from his wife (Paula Patton), now lives with his sister (Amy Smart), and is stuck with the night shift guarding a mall gutted by fire years earlier.  The mall is filled with the titular objects of vanity, except these damage proof image replicators enjoy torturing observers by either showing them scenes of strangers burning to death or the observer killing themselves.  In the latter case, the logic goes that what the mirrors show happening happens.  If it catches a door in its reflection, said reflection can close the door by, well, you get the process.

Ben Carson catches on quick to the supernatural non-dilemma, but that is also part of the problem.  As far as I, audience member, know, Carson was a standard detective.  He may have once had a career solving murders, but I recall no mention of him being a member of the Scooby Gang.  Why Carson goes on a crusade to search high and low in a haunted mansion of rubble for answers he knows are unexplainable is beyond me.  The plot does wrangle a procedural investigation out of it, though, which takes longer to realize its conclusion than the audience does.

I’ll return to the strained plotting later.  In the mean time, I want to wonder how a chain of events was set in motion that found Alexandre Aja -master behind all that Elevated Tension and those Ocular Hills – making a one trick movie with less atmosphere than Platinum Dunes’ remake of HOUSE OF WAX.  The two both involve a surface object as their hook and are set in creepy places with excess floor space.  I imagine if you remove actors from WAX’ budget (there aren’t a whole lot of folk in MIRRORS, and no ‘names’ other than Sutherland), they were working within the same sandbox.  And yet MIRRORS has no palpable atmosphere, no sustained tension, and most importantly, never creates an inherent aversion to the inanimate object in its title.

Maxime Alexandre, who shot all of Aja’s produced fare thus far, turns in a sub par shoot.  Much of it is poorly lit (I certainly had a hard time reflecting available light from the screen on to my watch to see how much longer was left in the mess) even for a film set largely in the dark.  Granted, this is attributable to Aja’s need to cover up his sub par visual effects.  No CGI in the film is up to snuff.  A sequence in which a jaw is partially ripped away from its natural place on the human body looks a joke until the the character stops thrashing around, at which point the tremendous looking practical effect is used (for once).

Returning to script inadequacy, I’d like to address the following, which I feel is just one minor indicator as to the lack of dialog that went on behind the scenes.  Towards the end of the film Carson’s family is being tortured by the mirrors while he is off doing his Scooby investigating.  The house has been flooded while his wife slept (thus bringing out the water line paraphrased earlier).  Patton’s character does a bunch of running around trying to save her children and gets drenched head to toe in the process.  Her daughter receives a tiny cut to her neck (can’t cut a kid too deep, that’d be a movie no-no) and Patton’s scripted response is to tear off her soaked top and use it to stop the barely bleeding.  And then she instantly grabs a first aid kit, patching her daughter up proper.  But of course more water mayhem is to follow and we now have the sexy Paula Patton creeping cautiously around her house in a drenched white top.  Goal achieved.

This house sequence is actually my favorite in the film.  A slick concept aided in no small part by the fact that Patton is a knockout at the center of it, but here is the rub: the shirt removal.  Why go through all the trouble of having a pointless sequence whose agenda could not be more obvious than to result in Patton wearing one less shirt?  Why allow someone like me to laugh at it when you could have simply had her wearing one less shirt from the get go?  I agree that this is a tiny topic to be talking about, but it represents a problem I think spanned the whole production.

No one questioned it.  Either Patton never said to Aja, “Look, Alex, I know I have a kick ass rack, but would I really take my shirt off so flagrantly in such a situation?  Can’t I just be wearing the white shirt before I get wet?” or Aja took the question and shot it down.  Whatever transpired, no one involved bothered to evaluate even the littlest of details.  Ignore enough little things and in no time they’ve Voltron’ed together into something undeniable.

Aside from a goofy plot, this obliviousness is what hurts MIRRORS most as it leaves average viewers chuckling and discerning viewers with dismissive questioning.  How did the mirrors scrounge up the right postage to mail Sutherland a UPS package?  How does the building stay standing after we see its entire foundation crumble to pieces?  Why should we care about a father figure that slams his fists into walls and yells at his wife in audible distance of his kids?  Why are the boy’s freckles so annoying?  Why computer generate cheap looking flames when a stuntman on fire has worked for decades?  And just how did the mirrors deliver that package to the UPS store anyway?

‘Tis fortunate that MIRRORS does reach a goofiness saturation point.  It is hard to remember when exactly it took place, probably around the time Jack Bauer kidnaps a nun at gun point, but you start to get in to how stupid it all is.  Once this happens, fun can be had from MIRRORS.  I even let go and allowed myself to love the film’s final scene (note: the only identical remainder from the comparably poor Korean source film).

Then again, it is rarely a good thing when one must allow themselves to submit to a film’s carelessness.

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  1. August 20th, 2008 | 12:14 pm | #1

    I guess the idea of suspension of believe is thrown out the window.

  2. R.J. Sayer
    August 20th, 2008 | 12:31 pm | #2

    man, i understand that you’re trying to avoid spoilers here, but you left out some of the funniest scenes.

    also, Paula Patton is FUCKING TERRIBLE. she’s not fit for dinner theatre in Waterloo, IA.

    how can you NOT LOVE the fact that Keifer screams “DAMMIT!” in EVERY SCENE?

  3. R.J. Sayer
    August 20th, 2008 | 12:32 pm | #3

    come on, Keifer screaming “WHO THE HELL DO YOU THINK YOU ARE?” … at a nun? PRICELESS.

    the whole last fifteen minutes i couldn’t stop laughing.

  4. Matt W
    August 20th, 2008 | 2:41 pm | #4

    I know I’m picky, but not really a critic (or is it the other way around? I dunno how it works) but myself and 2 friends seemed to be the only people who generally enjoyed the movie. Perhaps we left our brains at the door so to speak. The one thing I can agree with are two questions you asked:

    Why are the boy’s freckles so annoying? Why computer generate cheap looking flames when a stuntman on fire has worked for decades?

    It is mainly the latter, as the three of us did in fact laugh quite a bit at the horrendously awful scene.

    I will admit, I lost interest with the whole premise of Esseker was revealed (I want to avoid spoilers).

    I dunno, I felt that Aja borrowed so much from a lot of other movies, but he did it very well. Perhaps in the end I was more interested in how it would work instead of how well it worked? I dunno, Sorry for the rambling, I just want to know how myself and 2 people are the only ones who genuinely enjoyed this.

  5. August 20th, 2008 | 4:05 pm | #5

    Matt, I enjoyed it, but carry enough caveats to that statement to become a hunchback. MIRRORS stinks. Stinks bad. But sometimes I just go ahead and breath through my mouth.

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