Mirrors (United States, 2008)

A movie review by James Berardinelli
Mirrors Poster

When it comes to horror films, there's one basic principal to consider: consistency means everything. A movie can deviate as much as the filmmakers like from the laws of the real world as long as they establish and adhere to an alternate set of rules. Movies like Mirrors fail utterly in part because the rules are arbitrary, unclear, and seem to change depending on what the director wants to achieve in any given scene. As a result, the narrative rarely makes sense, seems contrived beyond a level for which the "willing suspension of disbelief" can apply, and is impossible to buy into. Such inconsistency makes Mirrors appear illogical and dumb, and director Alexandre Aja's inability to delineate credible or interesting characters results in 110 wasted minutes for anyone unfortunate to wander into an auditorium where this is playing.

Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is an ex-NYPD detective who has been suspended pending resolution of a fatal shooting in which he was involved. A recovering alcoholic, Ben is trying to put his life back together so he can again play "happy family" with his wife, Amy (Paula Patton), and his children. To do that, he needs a job, which will enable him to afford a better address than the sofa of his younger sister, Angela (Amy Smart). His best prospect is as the night watchman at the property housing the burnt-out husk of a once opulent department store. What Ben doesn't realize until it's too late is that fire-ravaged building contains homicidal mirrors. They're everywhere: in cosmetics, home and gardens, and menswear. And, once they have caught Ben's reflection, they aren't willing to let him go until he completes a task for them. Instead of finding a way to inform him directly what they want, they leave cryptic clues then begin killing and terrorizing his family members just to make sure he gets the message.

Some cultures believe that mirrors, like photographs, can capture the soul, and that belief appears to lie at the root of Mirrors' premise. The idea isn't bad, but the screenplay and execution are horrible. The lack of consistency I mentioned above riddles the script, and it's difficult to sympathize with a character who does so many stupid things. There are other problems as well. The climactic struggle is presented using poor lighting, unconvincing CGI, a shaky hand-held camera, and numerous rapid cuts. This results in it being largely incomprehensible. It is followed by a "twist" ending that makes about as little sense as anything else in the movie. Aja got away with this kind of narrative sloppiness in his debut feature, High Tension, because that film was visceral and exhausting. This movie is poorly paced and, excepting the occasional "boo!" moment, devoid of anything resembling tension.

Apparently, this is what Kiefer Sutherland does when he's not playing Jack Bauer. Although portraying the iconic CTU agent has effectively wiped away Sutherland's tabloid fodder past (he was once best known as the jilted lover of Julia Roberts after their relationship, which began on the set of Flatliners, famously flamed out), it has opened him up to typecasting. Maybe there's too much Jack in Kiefer, or maybe there's too much Kiefer in Jack. Regardless, it's hard to distinguish Ben from Bauer. Their mannerisms are identical. The hold and point guns the same way. They say "dammit!" with the same inflection. At least Sutherland's performance is competent. That's more than can be said of the work of the lovely Paula Patton, whose stilted delivery of dialogue and lame reactions destroy any chance at sympathy for her one-dimensional character.

Mirrors is yet another adaption of an Asian horror film, making one wonder if this seemingly endless trickle of depressingly mediocre fare will ever dry up. Mirrors shares many traits with its predecessors: an infatuation with the horrific aspect of some mundane item (phones, video tapes, static, photographs, mirrors, etc.) flat characters, confounding storylines, and a general disregard for anything that could remotely be considered intelligent. Some American adaptations of Asian horror films have achieved a certain degree of creepiness, but there's not much of that in Mirrors. The gore is so badly done that it's borderline comical and poor lighting passes for "atmosphere." It's one thing to generate a sense of menace by using darkness and shadow; it's another thing to use murky, dim lighting to obscure what's happening. Admittedly, there haven't been many effective examples of translated Asian horror, but Mirrors exemplifies the worst characteristics of these movies. The only thing the viewer is left to reflect upon is how embarrassing the genre has become.

Mirrors (United States, 2008)

Run Time: 1:50
U.S. Release Date: 2008-08-15
MPAA Rating: "R" (Violence, Profanity, Nudity)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1