Retro Review: MIRRORS (2008){0}

The good news is that Alex Aja’s Mirrors is a perfectly watchable horror-thriller that’s well-shot, well-scored, and backed by an excellent lead performance by Kiefer Sutherland. The bad news is that, despite the relative quality of this movie, we’re dealing with a simple case of cinematic leftovers. Like most horror flicks these days, Mirrors is based on somebody else’s film. In this case we’re dealing with a remake of the 2003 Korean thriller Into the Mirror. So if you’re a hardcore horror fan who bothered to track down ALL of the recent Asian-to-American remakes, then you’ve already experienced The RingThe Ring 2The GrudgeThe Grudge 2Dark WaterThe EyePulseShutterOne Missed Call … which means that a whole lot of Mirrors will feel pretty familiar to you. But just as its unfair to bash Stairway to Heaven for being overplayed, it’s tough to criticize Mirrors for its familiar tappings — mainly because it’s quite a bit better than most of the movies I just mentioned.

Sutherland plays a former police detective who’s trying to piece his life together after a vague-but-horrible tragedy on the job. To this end he takes a job as a night watchman at an abandoned department store that was gutted by an inferno five years earlier. Suffice to say our poor hero should have tried a temp agency, because it turns out the “Mayflowers” is not only a powerfully creepy and foreboding place — it’s also home to a bunch of evil spirits who reside inside the mirrors and force unwitting victims to kill themselves in truly horrible ways. But since our new security guard is a former detective, of course he’ll be able to piece the whole mystery together. Hopefully before those damn mirror monsters murder a few more bystanders.

It’s ironic that what works best in Mirrors is precisely the stuff that will have you checking your watch a few times, because Mirrors deserves a few extra points for trying to be more than just another ‘body count’ experience, but the simple truth is that it’s all very familiar. It could be a cursed videotape, a haunted cell phone, or a creepy camera — but pretty much all of these movies follow the exact same template. (As do the remakes, which makes the following premise even more tiresome.) It goes like this: An innocent person catches wind of some horrible supernatural activities regarding a certain OBJECT, only to see a few friends perish before our hero puts on his/her detective cap, figures out the creepy old secret, and goes about releasing the angry spirit from inside its videotape, cell phone, or camera. And in this case, add “mirror” to the list of evil inventory.

So once the overlong Mirrors starts digging into the truths behind the horrors, and Kiefer starts bolting from hospital to farmhouse to a Pennsylvania monastery (?), we’re “with” the movie because Aja and Sutherland are working pretty hard here — but it’s really irritating when you’re watching a “new” horror movie only to be reminded of eleven other horror movies. Most of them very recent. Fans of the genre might appreciate that Aja is shooting for something a little more story-oriented than his previous pair of movies (those would be High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes), but we’re clearly dealing with a situation in which a director is working harder than his material is. Those who walk in expecting gobs of gore will find only a few moments of the stuff (although they’re pretty damn excellent), but Aja does a fine job of creating a “haunted house” location that’s as grungy as it is creepy. (Indeed, the flick seems to slow down almost to a crawl whenever the action moves outside the old department store, particularly in the seams between Acts II and III.)

As mentioned, Kiefer Sutherland does a very fine job as a normal guy dealing with some horribly strange situations, and he’s assisted by a very fine pair of leading ladies: Amy Smart (the sister) and Paula Patton (the estranged wife) contribute much of what allows us to CARE about the leading man, plus they’re both really easy on the eyes, which certainly doesn’t hurt. (Side note: Paula Patton’s cleavage deserves fourth billing here. I haven’t seen a bra work this hard since Dolly Parton starred in 9 to 5.) Jason Flemyng’s role as a good-natured cop is so abbreviated it practically reeks of footage left on the cutting room floor, and there are a few lines of ADR dialog that are so silly it boggles the mind. (My favorite: When Kiefer tells Patton to avoid a flooded hallway because “water makes reflections!”) But Aja and co-writer Gregory Levasseur are clearly trying to develop something other than vicious mayhem, so it’s easy to forgive a few rough spots along the way. (Frankly I think Aja should take a break from remakes for a while. This guy should be creating his own horrors.)

So while it’s not much of a compliment to call Mirrors “considerably better than ShutterPulse, or One Missed Call,” the truth is that it is one of the more polished and entertaining Asian Horror Remakes of the past several years. One only wishes it had been released well before all the really lame remakes.