In a vivid red and brightly gruesome death scene, a woman's mirror reflection pulls its mouth apart while leering at her lying in the bathtub; very, very far apart. As the reflection's mouth starts ripping into dripping, stringy tissue, so does the real one, sending a shower of blood in every direction. I blinked for a second, wondering whether this was really happening to her or just an illusion, like Ben Carson's (Kiefer Sutherland) incendiary mirror reflection encounter earlier in the film, which left him unnerved but not scorched. Whatever the smudgy black cloud in the mirror is, it can either make you imagine what it shows you is real, or make its diabolical reflections really happen. This time, her mouth stayed open; wide, wide open.
In director Alexandre Aja's version of Kim Sung-Ho's Into the Mirror, the mystery in Mirrors surrounds the bizarre actions of two former security guards making the rounds of a burned-out department store, in New York City (though primarily filmed in Romania), awaiting renovation. Carson is a suspended NYPD detective involved in an accidental shooting, now battling his retreat into a liquor bottle. He takes up the nightly routine to pay the bills, walking through the department store's charred hallways past the many scorched mannequins and large mirrors reflecting the destruction all around him, with his flashlight barely illuminating the darkness. A palm print on the surface of one squeaky clean mirror peeks his curiosity, and soon a dark force begins to exert its will on him through the glass, showing people in flames and sending him to the flooded basement where the answer to the mystery lies.
Evil mirrors have been a staple gimmick in cinema and literature, whether employed as evil-presence-in-mirror, or ominous gateway to another, less hospitable, world/dimension/time, or malicious tool wielded by some evil Mr. Goodwrench-type. Mirrors uses all of these conceits as Carson and his family are increasingly threatened by the malevolent force reaching out from behind the glass. Aja, and fellow scripter Gregory Levasseur, mix in young girl demonic possession from The Ring, a psycho mirror room like the one from the House on Haunted Hill remake, mean-spirited facial disfigurement from Poltergeist, and a muddled, downbeat ending similar to the disappointing one from Silent Hill. What they leave out are a sustained, suspense-building eeriness and coherence to sensibly explain how and why the malevolence is forcing Carson to find someone named Esseker. The story is further diluted when reflective water puddles and plain glass conveniently become the new gateways through which his family is attacked later in the film, after they paint over all the mirrors in their home.
Given the elements taken from past movies, a memorable score by Javier Navarrete and art direction sufficient to capture the foreboding chill of desolation populated by overcooked mannequins, the movie still fails to mount tension-filled creeps. Instead, it replaces them with gory — but tepid — shocks that are unsettling, but only momentarily so. Dialog should have been handled better, too. When an upset Carson, in a key dramatic moment, asks "what if the mirrors are reflecting something beyond our reality?" I found it hard not to roll my eyes in disbelief at the banality.
Part horror story, part mystery, the detection picks up when Sutherland channels his 24 persona through Carson after he receives a UPS package from Gary Lewis, the security guard seen running for his life in the film's exciting opening minutes. In the box are news clippings about another security guard, the one who set the department store afire and supposedly murdered his family. Carson's investigation eventually leads him to Esseker and what lies beyond the brick wall in the flooded basement.
Aja trades what little human drama he fosters — built mostly from Sutherland's and Paula Patton's (as Amy, his estranged wife) earnest acting — for an incendiary climax that reminded me of the knock-down-drag-out encounter between Ash and the demon in Evil Dead. I admit it is fun, but seems out of place in a movie that, up until then, had scaled the action around human drama, not special effects. Suddenly it is hell'z-a-poppin' in a battle with a gravity-defying nightmare tossing him through brick walls.
A suspenseful encounter is never realized when Amy battles the demon on home turf. Under the influence of the evil force, her son opens all the faucets and floods the house, creating myriad reflective surfaces for it to attack from. When Patton conveniently removes her jacket so her white shirt can conveniently become saturated with water, I lost all hope for serious direction with this amateurish display of cheesecake for the male audience.
Aja, get serious. Next time, make sure she's not wearing a bra. If you must do it, at least do it right.