Saturday, August 16, 2008
Movie review: Mirrors
Some spooky stuff's going down even Jack Bauer couldn't handle.
Director Alexandre Aja's remake of the 2003 Korean shocker Geoul sokeuro (Into the Mirror) is called, simply, Mirrors - and it's one of those horror films that's almost as impressive for what it doesn't put on screen as for what it does.
Splat Packer Aja (The Hills Have Eyes, '06 version) could have taken low roads at several junctures during this 110 minute test of nerves (and, it has to be said, stamina) but instead rises above the potentially gruesome subject matter - with a couple of spectacular backsliding exceptions - and sticks for the most part to that higher ground characterized by psychological terror and Twilight Zone-esque creepiness.
Jack Bauer (er - I mean Kiefer Sutherland) portrays Ben Carson, a disenfranchised cop with a radical way of taking aspirin who's living with his sister (Amy Smart, as Angela) while paying unannounced visits to his two kids (Erica Gluck as Daisy and Cameron Boyce as birthday boy Michael) without his estranged wife's knowledge. Which concerns her (Paula Patton, as Amy) because until recently Ben's been imbibing uncontrollably in order to drown the memory of the accidental shooting of a fellow officer that led to his expulsion from the force.
To make ends meet while he whips his life and career back into shape, Ben takes a job as a security guard in the burned out carcass of a ritzy department store that took over the space from - bizarrely enough - a former psychiatric hospital. I guess you can see the general direction in which this story line is headed, but to the screenwriters' credit (kudos once more to Mr. Aja, along with co-scripter Grégory Levasseur) things turn out to be far more complicated - and intriguing, as our movie-going luck would have it.
Remember that out-of-left-field Jim Carrey psychobabble mashup from last year with the redundant title The Number 23? (As opposed to, say, the color 23?) Well, I do, and it's a good thing because the obsessional themes of that movie are reflected (ahem) in this one - but at a level that will prove more accessible to mainstream audiences. After all, who hasn't done a double-take while standing in front of a mirror, catching a glimpse of (we suspicion) something slightly sinister just beyond the fringe of the reflective medium?
This movie plays effectively on that instinctive distrust of the perfect reverse universe we encounter daily in our bathrooms, clothes closets and motorized vehicles. Just when you thought it was safe to go back into the dressing room, this cautionary tale lands in theaters.
There's a Goblin-worthy soundtrack accompanying the on-screen events (courtesy of Javier Navarrete). Combine this with believably terrorized performances turned in by the cast - Ms. Patton is notable in this regard, in addition to being a pleasure to gaze upon - and it adds up to a better-than-average cinematic shocker.
Young Michael (Mr. Boyce) becomes the focus of a poltergeist-like entity which cleverly demonstrates (or should I say DEMON-strates?) that, no matter how carefully you think you've removed the reflective materials from the house, the opportunity for scrying can still present itself, given a bit of improvisation.
As for that Splat Pack backsliding: there's a grisly bit of throat-cutting documented in the initial lead-in narrative, and a particularly nasty demonstration of the manner in which the oral cavity might be handily expanded that happens about mid-way through the show. (NOTE to Ben: it's bad form to vomit at the crime scene.)
One reason the movie might not have been screened in advance for critics may be that it ends with a deliciously malicious twist worthy of Shyamalan. In any case, I am pleased to report that this thoughtful and visceral shocker is well worth the price of admission - as long as your attention span - and nerves - are up to the challenge.
OR HIRE ON AS A SECURITY GUARD, FOR THAT MATTER: "Whoever'd want to shop here after everything that's happened?" - guard on the day shift, to new night shift guy, Ben
UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY DIALOGUE, PART UN: "What if these mirrors are reflecting things that are happening in another reality?" - Ben to Amy
UNNECESSARY EXPLANATORY DIALOGUE, PART DEUX: "The mirrors are really windows on our world." - Anna (Mary Beth Peil) to Ben