Crimson Quill’s Appraisal #244
Number of Views: One
Release Date: August 15, 2008 (US), October 10, 2008 (UK)
Country of Origin: United States, Romania, Germany
Budget : $35,000,000
Box Office: $77,488,607
Running time: 110 minutes
Director: Alexandre Aja
Producers: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Screenplay: Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur
Special Effects: Greg Nicotero, Howard Berger
Visual Effects: Stephane Bidault, David Fogg, Jamison Scott Goei, David Isyomin, Kenneth Nakada
Cinematography: Maxime Alexandre
Score: Javier Navarrete
Studios: Regency Enterprises, New Regency
Distributor: 20th Century Fox
Stars: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Tim Ahern, Julian Glover, Josh Cole, Ezra Buzzington, Aida Doina, Ioana Abur, Darren Kent, Roz McCutcheon, Adina Rapiteanu, William Meredith
Suggested Audio Candy
Javier Navarrete “Mirrors”
Alexandre Aja has done much to endear himself to me. His 2003 debut High Tension was my kind of horror movie, never sidetracked by unnecessary plot, it instead moved with the velocity of a rocket-strapped whippet and kept its hand firmly gripped around our jugulars from beginning to bloody end. It wasn’t just me, the Americans sat up and took notice and promptly recruited Aja to retell Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes to a modern audience. It’s not always a smooth transition when taking a film-maker from their native shores and asking them to put their stamp on Western work, and tougher still when you consider how much of an all-American darling Craven’s film had become over the years. Regardless of any difficulties faced, he did a stellar job and bought himself another shot in the process.
Mirrors is actually also a remake, of Korean slow-burner Into The Mirror to be precise, and is very different from anything else he has turned his gifted hand to, before or after. It’s primarily a ghost movie, allowing him to showcase his ability to frighten audiences as opposed to repulsing them. Of course, this being Aja, he has every intention of performing the double-header and this is where the cracks begin to form. It isn’t convinced of what it should be and consequently comes across convoluted and confused, not to mention overlong. It’s a crying shame as the premise is brimming with opportunity for a director with the visual swagger of he and a $35m kitty afforded him his largest budget yet. I’m just not convinced he knew what to do with all that moolah.
It’s opener is just as delicious as anything we have come to expect of such an adept auteur and visually he sets his stool out from the offset. After the gory and unsettling entrée he serves up a stunningly kaleidoscopic credit sequence which leaves us further salivating. It looks at this point as if it will be business as usual and I, for one, rolled up my sleeves and prepared to fight the corner of a film not particularly well received upon its theatrical unveiling. There was a nagging concern however about how his movie would hang together and these fears prove to be totally founded by the time the first act draws to a close.
Former NYPD detective Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) has been suspended from active duty for accidentally shooting a fellow cop and is battling alcoholism while attempting to save his fast dissipating marriage. Struggling to make ends meet and crashing on his baby sister’s couch, he takes a night watchman job in a dilapidated department store to get the cart back on the rails and prove himself to his estranged family. He soon becomes fixated with the glut of mirrors strewn around the store and the terrifying visions of torment which they reflect back his way. What concerns him more is the implications for his loved ones as it fast becomes clear to him that whatever lurks behind the glass isn’t fussy and will wreck bloody havoc on those he holds dearest.
Aja’s trademark visual flair is evident in abundance throughout the film’s early stages. The art and set direction are exquisite and Carson cuts a lonely figure on this bleak but grandiose Gothic backdrop, with his trusty flashlight revealing more than enough to provoke a case of the willies. Again, this being an Aja film, he is disinterested in eking this out and procrastinates not in gifting us ominous enlightenment as to what is manifesting. Ordinarily pacing would be more leisurely when dealing with a supernatural theme such as this but one gets the feeling he is simply begging to bust out the blood bags. He does with swiftness, culminating in an instance which many remember this film for solely. The infamous bathtub scene is an absolute golden shower and effortlessly one of the best kills in post-Millennia horror cinema.
Inevitably with that peak coming far too early for my liking and snuffing out one of the film’s most intriguing players, we hit a trough and Mirrors struggles to keep its head above water for the remainder of its duration. The plot hints briefly on significance of mirrors in mythology but the fascinating concept of one’s soul becoming trapped between two mirrors is never elaborated on enough and it ends up a case of admittedly lavish style over substance. Aja has openly titillated us up to that point and the contrived screenplay which explains Ben’s actions in somewhat trite exposition does nothing to blinker us from the loss of that early momentum.
The performances are universally solid, particularly from Sutherland who brings Jack Bauer to the party whilst giving Carson the emotional depth we have come to expect from an actor of his caliber. This is particularly evident when his own mental health issues conflict with his good intentions and he sets about giving every mirror he can get his paws on a matte finish with green paint. This is ham and eggs to Keifer and its his performance which holds our attention when it all begins to turn awry. Additionally, Amy Smart plays sibling Angela and is culpable of no foul whatsoever, shining as she invariably does whenever on-screen, but simply isn’t given ample material to work with.
The ending is intriguing if not totally successful and we are left with a film ironically stuck between two mirrors. It is never less than watchable and, despite 110 minutes seeming excessive, it moves at a pace brisk enough to not outstay its welcome. There are enough well implemented jolts and shocks to paint over any cracks but the glass is clearly warping. Nevertheless this is Alexandre Aja we’re speaking of here; he could transform a simple bowel movement into something of macabre beauty. The problem is, Mirrors is never convinced whether or not it would rather be beast.
Crimson Quill’s Judgement: 7/10
Grue Factor: 4/5
For the Grue-Guzzlers: Nicotero and Berger, sheesh those guys cover some ground don’t they? The SFX on exhibit here are of the uppermost echelons of visceral splatter and injury detail is left hanging in our psyche providing numerous spikes to our interest. Maim is the name of the game and Mirrors delivers wholeheartedly on this count. I vacated the bathroom to brush my teeth after watching if that’s any indicator.
Read The Hills Have Eyes (2006) Appraisal
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of The Crimson Quill
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