Mirror, mirror on the wall, who's the Kieferiest of them all?
Using a mirror in a horror movie is one of the oldest tricks in the book. They're always good for a quick scare and fun special effect. Some say that mirrors are a window into the soul. Personally, I think they're just a shiny surface that occasionally get covered in toothpaste when you don't close your mouth during brushing. Either way, the mirror is a useful horror tool, whether it was in Prince Of Darkness or A Nightmare On Elm Street or Stir of Echoes or The Ring. One can even say that the use of mirrors in horror is a cliché. Would an entire horror movie based on mirrors fit or break the mold?
Mirrors is a 2008 horror movie, based off ideas from the South Korean movie Into The Mirror, starring Kiefer Sutherland (24, Phone Booth) as former NYPD Detective Ben Carson. After an accidental shooting, Ben was suspended from the police force and fell into a downward spiral of alcohol and depression. His wife Amy (Paula Patton, Precious, Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol) left him and tries to limit his visits with their children Daisy and Michael. Ben is reduced to living in an apartment with his sister, Angela (Amy Smart, Road Trip, Crank) and has to take a job as a night security guard. His post is at Mayflower, a luxury department store that was gutted by a fire which killed many people. Unknown to Ben, the previous guard, Gary Lewis, was killed by supernatural means after his own reflection cut his throat. On his first night of guard duty, Ben sees all the mirrors in the building covered with hand prints, but the prints are on the reflected side of the glass facing out. Over time, he begins to see and feel visions of people on fire and begging for help. Ben actually receives a package sent from Gary, the now dead guard, with newspaper clippings about the fire and how a previous guard murdered his family, blaming their deaths on something in mirrors. As Ben begins to research the incident, Angela is viciously killed when her reflection rips pulls her jaw apart. In a fit of rage, Ben tries to break the mirrors in Mayflower, but they cannot be damaged. He asks the mirror what is wants and the name “Esseker” appears on the mirror's surface. By using his detective skills, Ben discovers that the department store was built on top of St. Matthews Hospital which housed a room full over mirrors used to treat mental patients. The name Esseker belonged to a young schizophrenic patient named Anna Esseker who had escaped a mass suicide at the hospital before it closed. Ben is able to find Anna who has since become a nun. She explains that she was not schizophrenic, but had some sort of demon inside her that escaped into the mirrors. With his family in terrible danger, with Ben and Anna be able to stop the mirrors in time?
And you think you had a bad day
I don't know if I've ever seen another movie that started out so strong and ended with such a thud. The first twenty-five or so minutes of Mirrors is a great mixture of suspense, mystery, and horror. The story is set up properly, giving us a bit of action in the very beginning and then filling in all the details of Ben's personal life. His story plays out like the typical “fired cop” character, complete with alcohol problem and shattered family life. It's so clichéd that I half-expected him to report to an irate chief and work with a partner that's “too old for this shit”. The beginning of the movie has a great horror atmosphere with the burned-out department store as the perfect setting. Everything is broken and burnt except for the immaculate mirrors. The special effects used to show the spirits in the department store look very good and Amy Smart's death scene is incredibly violent and disturbing. The inclusion of the evil being able to reach his loved ones was quite smart as it forced Ben to solve the problem. Many horror movies are lazy and keep characters in a haunted spot with no good reason not to leave. It's when the movie is taken out of the department store that things begin to fall apart.
The movie focuses too much on uncovering the mystery and gets far too complicated for it's own good. The addition of the hospital, a demon and Anna Esseker takes the story into a strange and unnecessary direction. One would think that the spirits (or demon, whatever it is) inside the mirrors were trapped souls looking for some measure of peace or something along those lines. It's far easier and entertaining to just have Ben looking for the real culprit of the fire than sending him on a wild goose chase. The department store was such a good setting that taking him out of it takes away from the horror of the movie. It doesn't help that the movie spends a good 20 minutes focused on Amy trying to save her kids while Ben tries to convince Anna to help him. These scenes just drag on for way too long and force the movie into a run-time of 111 minutes. That's unnecessary and it brings down the entire movie. Kiefer Sutherland is good, channeling a healthy dose of his Jack Bauer character from 24. Paula Patton does well enough, but like a lot of horror movies, the children are just too annoying for me to handle. Director Alexandre Aja (Piranha, The Hills Have Eyes) has some good moments, but doesn't get the most out of what should have been easy scares.
"I'm sorry, I got lost in my handsomness for a second."
Mirrors is a convoluted story that fizzled far quicker than it should have. What started out as a promising and fun horror movie became a complicated and boring supernatural mystery that was neither exciting nor thrilling. There are a few good scenes of violence and gore, but not enough to sustain the extra long run-time. It makes you wonder, if they're capable of showing extreme violence, why only settle for one or two scenes? The acting is decent and certainly helps make the movie more tolerable than if it were done by less-skilled actors. It's a shame that the movie turned out the way it did, because it really had a lot of potential, but potential can only take you so far.