by Jason Coffman
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Ever since Alexandre Aja gained international attention and was credited as kick-starting the current wave of French horror with High Tension, he has been a somewhat frustrating figure. High Tension lived up to its name for the most part, but a severely miscalculated plot twist sharply divided audiences and critics alike—had he played the story straight (no pun intended), Aja would have had a certifiable classic to his credit. As it stands, the film is, at best, flawed and, at worst, utterly incomprehensible. However, the film showed that he had a flair for the horror genre, and he was signed on to do the remake of Wes Craven’s “crazy hillbilly” classic, The Hills Have Eyes. Aja’s take on the film once again divided horror fans, although mostly, this time, it was inevitable. Remakes are a touchy subject among horror fans.
So it’s somewhat frustrating that, once again, Aja has taken on a remake. Mirrors is a remake of a Korean film called Into the Mirror. While Aja and co-writer Levasseur maintain the film is a big departure from the original, some of the hallmarks of the well-worn “J-horror” movement in Asian horror films are major parts of the film’s plot. There are the Scary Kids, the Horrible Secret from the Past, and loads of jump scares—which is a damned shame, because once again Aja proves (if nothing else) that he’s more than capable of making something great if he has the right material.
The film opens with a bloody sequence setting up the disappearance of a security guard that creates a job opening for Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland). Carson is a former police officer, who left the force after accidentally shooting an undercover officer and now lives with his sister, Angie (Amy Smart), as a recovering alcoholic. He takes the job as a night watchman in the Mayflower, a large, burned-out, abandoned department store. Everything in the store is ashes, but mysteriously, the store’s mirrors are completely untouched. Strange things begin happening, and Ben finds little help or comfort from his estranged wife, Amy (Paula Patton), who wants to support him but finds his increasingly bizarre behavior unsettling.
A large part of the film takes place in the Mayflower, which is simply one of the creepiest settings for a horror film in recent memory. The charred mannequins, thick ash on the floor and decaying luxuries make it scary enough on its own. The most effectively unsettling mirror scenes all take place in the Mayflower, where the film has its most sure footing—Aja sends the camera creeping along floors, gliding over railings, and generally reveling in the store’s inherently haunted atmosphere.
Unfortunately, when the action moves out of the Mayflower, the film often falls apart. Sutherland is fine as the obsessive ex-cop trying to uncover the Horrible Secret from the Past before it claims his family, and the story offers up a few interesting surprises near the end (including a fantastic ending). Otherwise, though, the film is plagued by two major problems: a seriously annoying reliance on jump scares, and the fact that many of the characters do things that are obviously foolish and to put themselves in danger. The latter almost manages to undo all the good that the film does during its sequences in the Mayflower.
Again, it’s clear that Aja is capable of making a damned great horror film. Mirrors is at least half of a great movie—if Aja could apply his compelling style to more solid material, I have no doubt he could turn out a classic. Once again, though, this isn’t it. However, I feel like I must salute Fox for putting some effort behind the promotion and release of Mirrors, an unapologetically gruesome movie in a market that has lately been highly skittish about R-rated horror films.
Jason Coffman is a writer and a film critic in Chicago.
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