French director Alexandre Aja has a savvy eye for horror and is able to
create atmospheric scares. This is how he was able to graduate from cheapie
French exploitation films to the reasonable star power of this mid-budget
potboiler. (Star Keifer Sutherland may be known better for television than
film at this point of his career – but at least he is well-known.)
However, this is the second film Aja has made in the US since the stateside
release of the atmospheric French slasher film High Tension in 2005
(it was filmed in 2003). That film was rather good, if sabotaged by an
absolutely awful ending. Neither of his American films has come close in
quality to that breakout, though. First he did the mutated-killer remake
The Hills Have Eyes and now he is doing a variation on the old
Watching Mirrors rather reinforces my gut reaction to Hills –
the guy is stylish and technically gifted, but he is also rather twisted and
much too sadistic for my taste. Aja is a strong proponent of the complete
gross-out school of horror. He has never heard of building suspense or
using the power of the imagination. Instead, Aja luxuriates in showing us
every possible gaping, bleeding wound and each bubbling pustule. He is
trying to make mutilation into an art – apparently not realizing that for
most people it is ugly and off-putting.
and Hostel movies. As that style is falling into disfavor (Mirrors
barely made a ripple in the box office), he had better broaden his
stylistic palette or he will be left behind. This would be a shame, because
the man does have the technical skills to be a reasonably good filmmaker –
if only he could reign in some of his more disturbing tendencies. Aja
is definitely a member of the torture-porn film squad – see also the
Mirrors, Aja is adapting a 2003 Asian horror film called Into the
Mirror by Sung-ho Kim. Like most Asian ghost stories, Mirrors
plays fast and loose with the rules of hauntings.
The ghosts follow their victims home, for example, and also attack family
members who never set foot in the haunted Mayflower – a fire-ravaged
Manhattan department store which had previously been a mental institution
where a horrible tragedy occurred in the 1950s.
Despite the fact that the department store is a burnt-out ruin, the owners
insist on having 24-hour guards who check the entire huge building every
couple of hours. It seems a little extreme. I suppose that they are trying
to avoid having vagrants, but by the way the lot is locked down and the mess
that the place is in, I can’t imagine even the most down-on-his-luck
squatter would have trouble finding a better place to crash.
again, the whole premise seems awfully shaky. Are they suggesting that a
burnt out and structurally unsound building which appears to take up at
least a whole block of prime Sixth Avenue real estate would be allowed to
sit empty and unused for years? Not in the New York I know. It would be
knocked down and turned into a high-rise office building in a matter of a
year. However, okay, we’ll allow the filmmakers their conceit.
new nighttime security guard is Ben Carson (Sutherland), a recovering
alcoholic former cop who has been suspended from
the job since mistakenly shooting a fellow officer. He is estranged from
his wife (Paula Patton) and children. Ben is sleeping on couch at the
apartment of his sister (Amy Smart).
sees the job as a good, easy way to make some money as he tries to get back
on the job. Within a day, though, he starts noticing mysterious things on
the job. First handprints start appearing on mirrors. Then screams cry out
in the night. Soon he is seeing all sorts of burning,
dying people in the mirrors of the store.
Instead of doing what any normal, rational person would do when he starts
seeing flaming ghosts and quitting on the spot – maybe taking a temp gig as
bank guard or a bouncer until he gets his fulltime job
back – Carson is determined to keep going back to figure out
what is going on. Bodies start to pile up, but that just fuels his
determination to find the evil force at the store – even if it puts himself
and his family in grave danger.
seems obvious that Aja is trying to take The Shining and ratchet up
the horror – and yet he really hasn’t learned the lessons of that much more
satisfying classic film (or the wonderful book that spawned it.) Many of
them are basic flaws – he has lost the sense of isolation and shock and much
of the ghost story makes little sense. The ghosts in The Shining
caused the humans to create the mayhem; in Mirrors the ghosts
themselves are mostly doing the killing. And, if
you get technical, they are not really ghosts, anyway.
more importantly, Aja has not learned the single most important rule of
horror filmmaking – to make the characters likable and sympathetic. If you
don’t really care for the people involved, it doesn’t matter as much if they
live or die.
Jay S. Jacobs
Copyright ©2009 PopEntertainment.com.
All rights reserved. Posted: February 14, 2009.