It's Jack Bauer versus a bunch of creepy mirrors. That's one fact that you've got to swallow down if you're going to enjoy Alexandre Aja's Mirrors; once that's understood, you can soak back into a comfy couch, grab a bowl of popcorn, and enjoy it for exactly what it is: illogical, CG-infused horror gibberish, all of which somehow becomes enthralling in the process. Just don't expect the director of the breathless horror mindscrew High Tension (Haute Tension) to falter from the paint-by-numbers formula that's been drawn out for the modern spook spectrum of cinema, because that'll leave you endlessly scanning deep into the mirror for something that's not going to pop out. Aja's not at the top of his game with this outing, but it's not without its moments of harrowing indulgence.
"24" star Kiefer Sutherland lends himself to this loose adaptation of the lessen-known Korean chiller, Into the Mirror. As former police detective Ben Carson, he's relegated himself to night watchman's position in an effort to stick his head under the sand. Following an accident while on-duty, he has come close to losing his wife Amy (Paula Patton, Déjà Vu) and two children due to a blend of grief and alcoholism. Ben's assigned to an old burned-down department store, one filled with ... you guessed it, mirrors, though they're all spotless, undamaged, and moving. As the supernatural forces grow more aggressive and outreaching, he realizes that the only way to keep this thing away from his family, including his sister Angela (Amy Smart, Butterfly Effect), is to discover exactly what these spirits want and uncover who, or what, "Esseker" is.
Once we've had some face time with Ben's wife and kids and learned his backstory, Aja's film progresses forward with its meat and potatoes: following Ben around in the dark as he discovers more about the violent haunted mirrors, both face-on and through some document-digging. Mirrors certainly ignites into an atmospheric jolt of energy, as it blends Aja-regular cinematographer Maxime Alexandre's eye for contrast with a dynamic set-decoration/production duo. Considering all the gothic and art deco remnants surrounding Ben, it's easy to see how this reflective darkness can have a dark and haunting personality all its own. It's an admirable villain when there's nothing tangible to work with, while easily outdoing the humdrum efforts from 1999's The Haunting by a country mile. Even once it starts to trickle into brighter environments -- such as in Angela's bathroom during one of the more intense scenes in the film -- the stomach-churning qualities follow appropriately.
But instead of utilizing cold corners and shadowy silhouettes as instruments to construct a subtle horror film, Aja can't restrain himself from using the same style of aggression that he infuses in Haute Tension and The Hills Have Eyes by trying to mutilate each mirror's focal subject. Instead, Mirrors becomes a gore-heavy supernatural mystery with plenty of traditional popcorn-flinging jolts and screams -- and that's fine, especially with the ways he uses Kiefer Sutherland's face recognition. Aja doesn't try to force him to not be Jack Bauer; instead, he lights a fire underneath him and allows for his signature thrilling aggression to interact with the supernatural world. It makes the parallel mystery plot where he skirts around using his police connections much more interesting, even if the buzzing energy that he creates somewhat diminishes the mood once he's plopped back in the dark. Aja could have leaned more on a Shining style of "infinite claustrophobia", something that he seems to want for Mirrors, but instead he transforms it into a robust mood scrambler that masks its potential by running on a set of explosive cylinders.
It's as if Mirrors becomes a video game style reflection on its Korean influence, constantly trying to both entertain and scare with every heartbeat instead of meticulously stringing along its audience into a weave of chills and suspense. This becomes more observable as it inches towards its discombobulating, nonsensical conclusion, one that leaves a bit of a sour aftertaste amid all its self-implicated cleverness. As cliché as the sentiment is, Alexandre Aja's Mirrors falls short of pulling a Verbinski's Ring on its audience by orchestrating a stronger companion to the original; instead, it nails down exactly what the direction sets out to do -- make us jump a little, get us fairly jittery about looking into a mirror, and relish in its simple successes as it fades back into the darkness.
Theatrical vs. Unrated:
Projected artwork for Mirrors claims that this is the Unrated Edition, though both "cuts" are available on this disc. The Theatrical film's runtime sits at 1:51:05, while the Unrated cut sits at 1:51:15 -- a difference of 10 bloody seconds. Bloody indeed, as they slyly hover around the grotesque bathroom scene that creates a slew of big dynamic shifts in the second act. A discreet splattering of extra blood and gore seems to be all that's been integrated into this scene, which really makes this cut practically the same experience that you'll remember from the theater.
Video and Audio:
As per Fox's committed repertoire, we've received a screening copy of Mirrors that contains unfinalized video and audio presentations for the film. Detail is garbled, shadow levels are pixilated as all get-out, while aliasing and edge enhancement run absolutely wild in its 2.35:1 anamorphic image. What can be made out is the meticulous detail to set design that Mirrors utilizes, along with strong usage of boldly-saturated palettes for warmer scenes.
Audio seems decent and aptly atmospheric, with the lower-frequency channel receiving a strong workout as higher-pitched effects suffer from a bit of a metallic nature -- but, still, this could be an unfinished recording. Subtitles will be available in English, French, and Spanish, as will language tracks in all three languages with the English being the only complete surround track. We'll report back with adjusted scores once retail copies are sent out.
Reflections: The Making of Mirrors (48:38):
Instead of setting up a "Scene Selection" type of option by breaking up this featurette, they've dogpiled all the information recorded for behind-the-scenes material -- about the conceptualization, acting, and production/post-production -- into one hefty documentary. As to be expected, there's plenty of conversation time with the filmmakers, especially Alexandre Aja. They discuss their initial dissatisfaction with the original script, their insane preparation for several of the mirror-breaking scenes (they've got somewhere in the neighborhood of 200+ years bad luck coming their way, if superstition holds true), as well as some discussion about the film's big twist ending.
Behind The Mirror (18:21):
As an added side note, this featurette dives into the mythology behind Mirrors. It introduces the themes regarding Mirrors as gateways, as moral portraits, as well as tools used in the Pagan world for other more auspicious endeavors. It brings up interesting ideas, as well as emphasizing the presence of Mirrors everywhere in society -- all the way to our skyscrapers, which are drenched in them. Some of the concepts brought to light by the professionals stretch a bit far, but overall it's a clever overview.
Several deleted scenes are available here, clocking in at over fifteen (15) minutes of unused material. Overall, most of the material would've felt very welcome in the core film, especially the few scenes that elaborate more on Ben's actions as the film progresses. One of such clipped bits of film is an Alternate Ending advertised on the front of the DVD, though it's more like a foreword leading into the ending. This addendum to the conclusion helps everything make more sense, though it does portray a child's death in an unsettling fashion. Still, the way that it ties together the ending's root concept and the events leading up to it would've greatly helped Mirrors' resolution.
Mirrors can best be labeled as a serviceable supernatural horror/mystery flick from Alexandre Aja, meaning that it does the job that it's asked to do and little more. You'll, of course, find things to like in Kiefer Sutherland's performance if you're into "24", while the rest of the performances are merely just there. It'll get a charge here and a screech there with its mix of splattering gore and smoke-and-mirrors tension, but very little in the realm of return value. As such, it's worth a Rental for its blend of intrigue and traditional horror antics, all garnished with Sutherland's intensity to boot.