Pablo Proenza's Dark Mirror follows a family - Deborah (Lisa Vidal, probably best known for her stint on ER), Jim (David Chisum) and their son Ian (Joshua Pelegrin) - who move from Seattle to Los Angeles where Deborah hopes to get her photography career back on track. As they get settled in their new digs, Deborah really begins to appreciate the lovely stained glass work in the house as she goes about taking care of Ian and getting to know the gossipy blonde next door. During one of these chats with the neighbor, she learns that before they moved in a renowned artist called the place home until he and his whole family simply disappeared without a trace. Deborah's mother comes to visit and tells her that in certain cultures windows were used to trap evil spirits and keep them from entering the house... see where this is going yet?
As Deborah begins to investigate the history of the house, life gets stranger. Jim starts to show an unhealthy interest in the blonde next door, while the cranky old Chinese lady on the other side perpetually stares at her out the window. Deborah decides to take a picture of the mirror in the bathroom and then experiences a strange phenomenon where a strange ripple warps her vision and seemingly shows her an alternate reality. Shortly after this occurs, there appear to be spiritual manifestations occurring in the house... and then they people she starts photographing start turning up dead.
Dark Mirror is one of those slow-burn horror films that takes its time with the pacing and which leaves most of the nastiness to the viewer's imagination. The film is almost quiet at times, letting characters develop slowly and a few times, it feels a bit tedious. Thankfully the film has, at its core at least, a pretty interesting concept which Proenza and co-writer Matthew Reynolds have turned into a decent story. There are plenty of eerie moments and some nice subtle touches that keep this often times dramatic picture firmly rooted in horror movie territory even when it might not always seem that way.
There are times where the script stumbles and the film falls prey to some pretty obvious clichés, the kind that seasoned horror fans will see coming very early on, and as such it does lose a bit of its staying power but there's enough about Dark Mirrors that works to make it worth checking out. The performances are all quite strong, particularly the lead from Lisa Vidal who is both believable and likeable in the role.
The first half hour of the film feels a little bit choppy but once the plot is established and moving along, we wind up with a reasonably claustrophobic movie that makes good use of its location by way of some great camera work and strong sound design. The scene where the flashbulb goes off in the mirror and continues to ripple is also shot very well and you know as soon as it happens that something is very definitely awry. Some clever editing and camera positioning later on in the film also helps to build atmosphere and to provide a few fun jump scares. The simple, haunting and almost saddening score that comes courtesy of composers Pieter A. Schlosser and Isaac Sprintis also helps to build atmosphere quite nicely as it's always complimenting the story and never over powers the characters up on the screen.
Dark Mirror arrives on DVD in a nice 1.78.1 anamorphic widescreen transfer that does a pretty good job of presenting the film in a clean, clear and colorful manner though the super 16mm roots mean things will look a little grainy. There are some minor compression artifacts noticeable in a couple of the darker scenes but aside from that, the image is pretty stable even if it's a bit soft in spots. The color scheme for the film may not blow you away but you can't fault the transfer for that, it presents the bleak looking and darker moments in just the right way ensuring that the intended look of the film remains intact. The house that it all takes place in isn't the most colorful of homes, so the movie has a bleak look for much of its running time. Detail levels are usually pretty good and skin tones look lifelike and natural. No issues with print damage, dirt or debris to report, and while this isn't a perfect image, it's a decent one.
The English language Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround Sound scene on the disc is quite good. Surround channels are used to build some nice atmosphere and while this is definitely a front heavy mix, rears kick in from time to time to add some welcome ambience - you'll definitely notice this the first time the flash goes off in front of the mirror. The front low end isn't as strong as it could have been but it's there and you'll notice it though the score could have had a bit more punch. Dialogue is easy enough to understand and follow and the levels are nicely balanced. All in all, a nice effort from IFC Films in this department. Optional English subtitles are included.
First up is a commentary track from Pablo Proenza who is joined by Lisa Vidal and one of his producers, Erin Ploss Campoamor, who is also married to Pablo. They give props to everyone who worked on the film and express admiration for all who helped them on the picture as they divulge some interesting trivia about shooting the film and discuss the technique and the writing process and how they wound up finding the house they shot the movie in. It's a pretty chatty track with a lot of joking around and no one is taking anything all that seriously for the most part, but there's some good information here if you want to learn more about the making of the picture and there's rarely any dead air. It sometimes wanders off topic and sometimes just simply points out the obvious, but for the most part it's interesting enough to be worth skimming through.
Also included is a Behind The Scenes documentary (8:42) that begins by explaining where the idea for the movie came from based on an odd house that Proenza and Campoamor lived in while they were working in Los Angeles. There's some good behind the scenes footage here and some simple and casual interviews with all sorts of people involved in the movie, from the cast to a foxy girl dressed as a cowgirl working as a grip. It's a little clip heavy in spots, but otherwise not a bad look at the making of the movie.
Rounding out the extras is a single deleted scene (1:19) involving Deborah, her photography and a gawking bystander. Trailers for the feature and for a few other IFC DVD releases are included (and play before you get to the menu), which includes a chapter selection sub-menu.
A decent enough spooky picture for a rainy weekend afternoon, Dark Mirror may not be a classic for the ages but it's well put together and benefits from some strong performances and an interesting concept. IFC's DVD looks and sounds pretty good and contains some interesting extras. It's definitely worth a watch, consider this one a very solid rental.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.