Starring Kiefer Sutherland as an ex-police officer locked in a battle of wills with an evil spirit that does its lashing out through reflective surfaces, Mirrors tries to blend conventional horror with dark, allegorically-tinged investigation, and ends up pulling off neither to much effect. French-born filmmaker Alexandre Aja, quickly becoming the go-to director for down-and-dirty horror remakes, hits all the keys hard, but there's not the tune of a smooth, unified vision here, just the jangly, discordant tones of set-piece mayhem, as occasionally run through an amplifier.
Not screened in advance for critics by distributor 20th Century Fox, Mirrors opened this past Friday to $11.1 million, besting Fox's own Shutter, which was similarly held from reviewers and bowed to $10.4 million earlier this spring. The familiar face of Sutherland, the film's narrative familial roots and relatively restrained gore (or at least the sellable appearance of such) will help separate it, internationally, from the pack of teen-centric horror films, and the movie should additionally be a tidy earner on DVD, wooing both genre aficionados and a cross section of fans of Sutherland's small screen hit, 24.
Recovering alcoholic and NYPD vet Ben Carson (Sutherland) is still recovering from a shooting that's left him dazed, a shell of his former self. Living with his sister Angela (Amy Smart) until he can get back on the force and convince his wife Amy (Paula Patton) into letting him rejoin her and their two kids, Ben takes a carry-over job as a nightwatchman at the Mayflower, a sprawling, burned-out department store awaiting demolition. Almost immediately, he begins seeing grotesque reflections, and experiencing intense hallucinations. When tragedy strikes, Ben becomes convinced that mirrors everywhere, not just in the Mayflower, hold menace, so he sets out to get to the bottom of the story, and protect his family. A package sent by the previous nightwatchman gives him a clue in the form of a surname, Esseker.
Aja and multi-hyphenate partner Gregory Levasseur, who is his co-writer, producer and second unit director, know how to bring multiple influences to bear on a scene. While there are some desultory jump-scares, Aja also has a keen sense of aural manipulation that hasn't always been noticed in his previous work. Mirrors' baroquely ornate setting (with Romania substituting for New York) also offers the opportunity for some dusty, moody production design, though conversely some of the movie's exteriors suffer in this regard.
Tamping down on the sort of grim sadism that made The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension mostly popular with diehard genre fans leaves Aja with less arrows in his quiver, though. In Mirrors, Aja, foremost a stylist, gets tripped up with a complicated narrative at cross purposes with his strengths as a filmmaker. He clearly yearns for the mirrors to reflect "something beyond reality," as Ben hypothesizes, but the script's tangled back story doesn't reflect much thought about the particulars of its stalking menace. Why the evil chooses to target certain people (Ben, say, but not one of his security guard colleagues) is a mystery.
Lacking clear motive, the screenplay can't convincingly sell Mirrors' hard-charging investigatory plot strand of the second and third acts, in which a jumble of expository clues are provided, alternately, by the deceased previous nightwatchman and a police officer colleague (Jason Flemyng) only present to feed Ben information, but neither act on it himself or ask why it's needed. Late attempts to layer in an element of spirituality only further muddy the waters, leading to a paradoxically yawning climax that is stylistically out of step with the rest of the movie, and a gimmicky ending that means absolutely nothing, except the chance for Aja to pompously marry some dizzying orchestral music to a sweeping crane shot. For the full, original review, from Screen International, click here. (20th Century Fox, R, 111 minutes)