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Dustin Putman

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Mirrors  (2008)
2 Stars
Directed by Alexandre Aja.
Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Tim Ahern, Julian Glover, Josh Cole, Ezra Buzzington.
2008 – 111 minutes
Rated: Rated R (for strong violence, disturbing images, language and brief nudity).
Reviewed by Dustin Putman, August 15, 2008.
With two superior slasher films under their belts—2005's horrifically beautiful "High Tension" and 2006's ably intense "The Hills Have Eyes" remake—writer-director Alexandre Aja and scripting partner Gregory Levasseur turn their attention toward the supernatural with "Mirrors." Loosely inspired by the 2003 Korean picture "Into the Mirror," their latest effort models a chilling central conceit, but only some of the time works in the way one hopes. The plotting, taking inspiration from the Japanese "Ringu" and its 2002 American redux "The Ring," draws the viewer in, but becomes more strained and contrived the longer it goes.

Former NYPD cop Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is having a tough time putting his life back together following a shooting incident that left him suspended from the force. Three months sober and living with younger sister Angela (Amy Smart) while he attempts to fix his troubled marriage to Amy (Paula Patton), Ben takes the next step in recovery by getting a new job. Hired by Lorenzo Sapelli (John Shrapnel) to be the night watchman at the condemned Mayflower department store, the site of a disastrous and deadly fire several years earlier, Ben believes it will be a relatively painless way to step back into the workforce. Left to his own devices during the witching hour and beyond, he initially senses that something isn't quite right with the mirrors in the store, and then starts fearing for his life when the demonic reflections reveal a mind of their own. When someone close to Ben is brutally killed and there is no question to the identity of the culprit, he begins a desperate investigation into a mysterious name the mirror keeps sending out—Esseker—and its link to a psychiatric hospital that the department store was built upon fifty years earlier.

Horror films with supernatural underpinnings are almost unequivocally PG-13 affairs in today's corner-cutting times, so it is with utmost appreciation that "Mirrors" bucks the trend of recent watered-down projects like "One Missed Call" and "Shutter." Violent and grisly when needed, the picture features a handful of startling (and sobering) moments, the most unforgettable being a jaw-dropping scene involving a bathtub, a mirror, and the otherwise grievously wasted Amy Smart (2006's "Crank"). Another set-piece in which Ben attempts to track down a woman's goosebump-inducing screams in the department store is just as effective, director Alexandre Aja wisely allowing the situation to play out without any overly intrusive musical accompaniment.

The very idea that mirrors are a portal to darker worlds and our own benign reflections potentially house sinister forces is fascinating. Despite the same idea having been done better in 1988's underrated "Poltergeist III," there is still enough interest in the plot that the viewer willingly follows Ben as he tries to find a way to destroy the mirrors' abilities before the lives of his family—not only wife Amy, but also son Michael (Cameron Boyce) and daughter Daisy (Erica Gluck)—are taken from him. Treating Ben with a modicum of flaws and hang-ups—he is seen as a real person with identifiable, albeit hamstrung, problems rather than a thinly shaded pawn—helps to involve the viewer in his plight, even as said plight gets sillier as it presses on.

Intercutting between two separate dire goings-on, the climax lacks logic even in its elementary portrayal of the passage of time, and also forces the heretofore intelligent Amy to drop her IQ in the name of literally wading around in watery reflections for an inordinate amount of time when she should be running out the front door. Most regrettable of all, though, is the way Ben's side of the story culminates with a dubious reliance on shaky camerawork that wholly botches what could have been its most frightening sequence. You'll know it when you see it, and you'll be left wondering how director Alexandre Aja could step so wrong when he did everything right in "High Tension."

Kiefer Sutherland (2006's "The Sentinel"), silencing his Jack Bauer persona from TV's "24," does strong, intimate work as Ben Carson, and Paula Patton (2008's "Swing Vote") is as adept as always in her potent turn as Amy. The cinematography by Maxime Alexandre (2007's "P2") is attractive in its portentous use of mirrors lurking in almost every shot, though only so much can be achieved when a film set in Manhattan is filmed in Romania. "Mirrors" ends in a way that would make "The Twilight Zone" proud; it is a provocative capper, but one that isn't earned when considering the ultimately lackluster treatment that the plot itself receives. The thought of something on the other side of a mirror desperate to be unleashed is scary stuff—scarier, unfortunately, than the reality of what director Alexandre Aja has imagined its physical form to be. "Mirrors" isn't a total wash of a horror film, but it is not unreasonable to expect more from a filmmaker who has delivered stronger, more confident works in the past.
© 2008 by Dustin Putman
Dustin Putman