Sunday, 20 December 2009

Mirrors (2008)

You try to avoid looking into evil mirrors when
your wife has such an awesome rack.

I loved Haute Tension (except for the twist ending) and I thought the The Hills Have Eyes remake was one of the best things to come out of this horror remake boom, so I had some high hopes for Alexandre Aja. I knew this one wasn't well received, but horror rarely gets good critical reviews, especially when it's this well produced, so I thought it was worth a shot. Apparently it's based on a not-great Korean horror film called Into the Mirror, which I haven't seen, but unlike many Asian horror remakes it's rated R, so it's possible for adults to enjoy it and not just tiny, tiny babies.

Kiefer Sutherland plays Ben Carson, a former NYPD Detective who shot an undercover cop about a year ago (we know this because he keeps year-old newspapers lying around), turned to drink, lost his job, his family etc. Now he's living with his sister Angela (Amy Smart) and taking mystery drugs to help him overcome his alcoholism. Until he can get reinstated he's taken a job as a nightwatchman at a huge, derelict department store that was burnt-out in a fire five years ago, but hasn't been refurbished due to an ongoing insurance battle. It's kind of weird because it's this enormous, beautiful building just sitting vacant in the middle of Manhattan. Can you imagine the taxes?

Anyway, all the creepy mannequins and blackened fixtures make it a good setting for a supernatural horror film. It seems that the previous nightwatchman, Gary Lewis, had an obsession with mirrors and would spend his evenings polishing up all the mirrors in the building. I don't know why, since his reflection is clearly an asshole who made him slit his own throat in the opening scene. Carson doesn't know this though, so he's pretty freaked out when he sees weird stuff in the mirrors, like his own reflection giving him sass or people burning from bad CG fire. Carson even catches on bad CG fire himself and it's a little embarrassing when he starts rolling around on the floor groaning and screaming. Quick, somebody find a bad CG fire extinguisher!

At this point I figured that the department store was hell of haunted, but it turns out to be something much more ridiculous. In fact, it's pretty amazing how quickly Carson leaps to the conclusion that these ghastly visions are something evil-mirror-related. I guess he's a pretty good detective after all. He's also helped along by Gary Lewis, who posthumously sends him a conspiracy theorist starter kit, full of newspaper clippings about the department store fire and mysterious mirror-related deaths. He stumbles across another convenient clue when he finds Gary Lewis' wallet lying around the department store. It contains a scrawled note reading "Esseker".

I figured this note was a "redrum" kind of deal but it's not, it actually refers to Anna Esseker, a schizophrenia patient from an old mental institution that's walled-up in the basement of the department store. Obviously, right? Luckily he's got one of those detective buddies who will look up any piece of information he wants, no questions asked, so soon he's got his hands on a big file of exposition. It seems that back in 1952, before ethics committees, Anna was given an experimental schizophrenia treatment where she was strapped into a room full of mirrors and forced to look at her own reflection for days on end. A couple of days later all of the other patients butchered each other, Anna disappeared and the institution was closed. I guess everyone forgot after that, I mean who would remember an incident like that?

Firstly Carson heads to the creepy farmhouse where Anna used to live. Apparently she suffered from violent seizures that were a danger to herself and others, so her brother shows him the basement dungeon where they used to lock her up. I don't know why they still have it after 56 years, maybe they rent it out as a bed-and-breakfast. He also discovers that after the incident at the institution Anna was shipped off to a convent with a strict no-mirrors policy, and there she remains, so Carson heads there to meet her. She tells him that she wasn't schizophrenic at all, she had a terrible case of Satanitis, and the demon is now trapped in mirrors, or some stupid shit.

While all of this is going on he freaks out his family by getting crazier and crazier. His sister asks the perfectly reasonable question "Why don't you get a normal day job?" but he responds "It's not that simple." Well, no actually, it really is. In fact, his poor sister cops it worst of all, a literally jaw-droppingly gory death while she's taking a bath. Poor Amy Smart. He also freaks out his cleavage-happy wife and adorable moppet kids by going on crazy rants, painting over all the mirrors in their house and even busting some caps at an evil mirror in their front yard. I don't blame them for thinking he's insane, his behaviour is pretty crazy, even for a guy being haunted by evil mirrors. Just calm down, will ya? Jeez.

Eventually his wife experiences some mirror hauntings for herself, so it's a race against time as Carson takes the nun back to the mental institution at gunpoint so she can face her demons or whatever. He straps her into the creepy mirror room and after thrashing around for while she just straight-up explodes, along with every mirror in the joint. This would have made a fine ending (and in fact in did, until poor test screenings forced them to change it) but instead Anna turns into a CG demon thingy and starts chasing Carson around and throwing him through walls. As the building starts collapsing all around him he impales her on a gas pipe and, shouting "Eat this, bitch!" (it's not exactly "Let off some steam, Bennett"), shoots the pipe until it explodes. In addition to the unnecessary demon fight, they also added a twist ending. Audiences these days expect a twist ending in their horror, even if it's stupid and nonsensical, and this one makes the twist ending of Bruno Mattei's Rats: Night of Terror look perfectly reasonable.

There are some creepy moments in this film (the misbehaving reflections are pretty good) but overall the premise is far too silly for a movie that takes itself this seriously. Alexandra seems to be aware of this fact, since he seems to be working way too hard to make things scary. There are so many ominous shots of mirrors, complete with overbearing musical stings, that I think it would make an good drinking game. Just don't don't look at your reflection in the shot glass. There's a pretty funny part where Carson smashes his rear-vision mirror in frustration, only for the camera to hold on an extended shot of his car's side mirror. "You can't escape us! Mirrors are everywhere." It's almost as hilarious as the evil trees in The Happening.

Although it's not all that scary, I did enjoy Kiefer Sutherland's batshit performance. He does a lot of hoarse whispering and shouting for no reason, what other people refer to as his Jack Bauer voice but since I've never seen 24 I'll have to take their word for it. He screams, he cries, he gets to say ridiculous lines like "Stay away from the water! It creates reflections!" without a trace of irony. We're talking almost Nicolas Cage levels here, the DEFCON 4 of overacting. Highly enjoyable.

There's probably a good movie in here somewhere. If they had stuck with the haunted department store I think it could have been a pretty good horror film, but it just tries to do too much. Instead of focusing on one thing it spirals out into a greatest-hits of supernatural horror, with spooky mental institutions, creepy farmhouses, demonic creatures and exploding nuns. I'm not going to write Aja off completely, but consider my faith in him soundly shaken.

No comments: