Letter From The Editor - Issue 59 - October 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
At The Picture Show
August 2008

Through the looking glass

Kiefer Sutherland fights nonsensical otherworldly forces in half-hearted 'Mirrors'

Mirrors
20th Century Fox
Director: Alexandre Aja
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja and Gregory Levasseur, based on a 2003 script by Sung-ho Kim
Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Jason Flemyng and Josh Cole
Rated R / 1 hour, 50 minutes
(out of four)

Alright, listen. If there's a condemned building housing evil spirits that lurk inside of mirrors, Jack Bauer is going to find out about it. If the mirrors hold a secret to the mysteries of an unsolved crime, Jack Bauer is going to get to the bottom of it.

If you stand in his way, he's going to threaten you with his firearm until you understand just how serious he is. If you kill someone he loves, that's just going to make him angrier. If you are concealing crucial information from him, he'll beat it out of you.

You can't be so glib, Evil Mirrors. You can't mess with this guy. He's Jack Bauer, and he's never going to stop. He's a machine.

In Mirrors, Jack Bauer plays Ben Carson, recovering alcoholic and loving father of two, who is on temporary leave from the police force after accidentally killing a fellow cop. He takes a job as a security guard at the dilapidated Mayflower building, which used to be a ritzy department store . . . after, of course, it was a psychiatric hospital.

But things seem a little off from the moment he starts his new job. He starts to see things inside the immaculately clean mirrors. Ghastly images. Distorted reflections. They're so powerful, in fact, that he can see, hear and even feel what's going on inside the mirrors, even if it isn't really happening on the other side. The previous night watchman turns up dead, having slashed his own throat with a piece of . . . get ready for this . . . a piece of broken glass from a mirror!

Whatever paranormal forces are at work inside these mirrors, Ben becomes obsessed with these spirits and all their ghoulish desires, and driven to discover the truth.

I know what you're thinking: This sounds like a crappy American remake of an Asian movie, right?

Sir or madam, you are correct.

Like The Ring, Dark Water and others, Mirrors takes a silly concept and turns it into a glorified procedural, with the A-list star as one-man (or woman) detective. No one believes Ben, of course. After all, he's an alcoholic. It's probably just the booze talking! Mirrors killing people? You're crazy!

The film is most reminiscent of movies like The Shining and The Amityville Horror, with its basic plot and suggestions of a cyclical supernatural effect that has existed long before our protagonist got there, and perhaps will exist long after.

Naturally, just at the point when Ben is trying to patch things up with Amy (Paula Patton), he becomes obsessed with the mirrors and his seemingly insane behavior undoes all that progress.

I suppose it's not a terrible idea for a horror movie, but director Alexandre Aja doesn't trust his audience enough to let the movie work psychologically or emotionally. When Ben is just starting to realize that something is going on in the mirrors, Aja insists on showing us what's really there, then what's in the reflection, then what's really there, then what's in the reflection again. Just to make sure we get that we're seeing two different images.

Well, we get it. Such an obvious visual storytelling device not only undermines the intelligence of the main character, but takes away any possibility of uncertainty or ambiguity that might have made Ben's own experience more taut. If you create an atmosphere of fear and paranoia through what Ben sees, what he doesn't see, and what he thinks he sees, you can build genuine terror.

Instead, Aja rejects the power of suggestion. No, he's going to show us everything if it takes every second of his two-hour runtime to do it.

And when that doesn't get the job done, he's going to abandon the psychological nature of the set-up, turn his main character into the main character from 24 and turn the mirrors into an arbitrary killing machine with increasingly sophisticated intelligence. By that point, any novelty the film may have been going for has been long since trashed. After all, Jack Bauer has a case to crack.

Read more by Chris Bellamy


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