After his infamous debut film Haute Tension, French horror director Alexandre Aja has mostly been confined to redoing other people’s original works. His biggest hit to date has been his remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, but he’s also slated to do his own take on Joe Dante’s drive-in classic Piranha in 2009. Between then, he’s gotten yet another remake into theaters. This time, Aja turns his eye towards South Korea, adapting the South Korean horror film Geoul Sokeuro into the surprisingly competent horror film Mirrors.
Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is an ex-cop with a troubled past. Since accidentally shooting a fellow officer on an undercover assignment, Ben’s life has gone into the toilet. He’s separated from his wife Amy (Paula Patton), his kids, he’s been forced out of the force because of psychological problems, and he’s bunking with his much younger kid sister Angela (Amy Smart). He’s had some drinking problems, but he’s clean and sober now, and he’s getting back onto his feet with the help of a night watchman position.
The Mayflower building was once the finest department store in New York until a fire gutted the entire building and injured a whole bunch of innocent shoppers. Now it’s a hulking, burned-out ruin full of decaying mannequins, shattered glass, and strangely enough, a bunch of well-cared-for mirrors (the previous night watchman was obsessed with them, for reasons the movie reveals fairly quickly). Apparently mirrors can’t be destroyed by fire, which my inner skeptic tends to dismiss, but for the purposes of the movie, I’ll ignore that and we’ll say that the mirrors are indestructible because of evil magic.
Mirrors is a cut above the average late-summer fare thanks in no small part to Kiefer Sutherland. His steady work on the hit series 24 finds him able to both do investigative work and handle a gun, even if that means Ben Carson is like a less successful, less indestructible Jack Bauer. His background as a cop is crucial to the film’s plot, which combines supernatural horror with a detective thriller. Sutherland is definitely able to play cop well, even if it’s hard to shake his TV career from the mind. Paula Patton is fairly good in her role as the mother of Ben’s children and a professional in her own right; she’s not given a terrible amount of things to do in the movie other than to not believe Ben’s crazy story at first, then to completely come around and believe him in the end. Amy Smart doesn’t have a whole lot to do in the film, but she does get one of the better special effects sequences in the movie, so there’s nothing to complain about.
Alexandre Aja is very restrained compared to his usual style (aside from the aforementioned special effects sequence and some flapping pigeons that sound like machine gun fire). There’s very little overt violence against women, a welcome change, and while there is some peril, the crux of the tension is centered on Ben Carson’s character and his efforts to decipher the mystery of the mirrors before it is too late. There’s suspense, not torture. I didn’t expect this from the director of Haute Tension, that’s for sure.
Much like the work of Brad Anderson’s Session 9, the Mayflower building is used well (but not as well as it would have fared in Anderson’s expert hands). I’m not sure if this is a result of Aja maturing as a director (though with Piranha on deck, I somehow doubt it) or due to some degree of fidelity to the original Korean film. I’d believe the latter, as creepiness over brutality seems to be the modus operandi of this generation of Asian horror films (that make it to Hollywood). It was nice to see someone try to scare the viewer, not just immediately jump to gross-out splatter and Grand Guignol brutalism.
The film is a bit long for my tastes, coming in at 110 minutes. There’s some flabbiness in the middle that could have easily been cut out. The final act suffers a bit from some downright silly (but necessary for plot resolution purposes) sequences and a great deal of predictability. Some of the things I predicted, jokingly, 15 minutes before they happened only to laugh in incredulity as Jack Bauer Lite actually did the goofy thing I predicted! That’s never a good sign and it harmed the movie’s overall seriousness factor a great deal.
Mirrors, given its plot and the amount of investigating and lead-chasing involved, would’ve made a much better X-Files movie than the actual X-Files movie. Certainly, I have a bit more faith in Chris Carter and Frank Spotnitz to have made the film’s conclusion a bit less predictable and a lot less silly. Still, as a whole, it was a fairly entertaining attempt at making a supernatural suspense genre film and throughout most of the experience, I was interested and engaged despite the flaws.