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Mirrors - horror DVD review
MIRRORS (UNRATED) Unrated by the Motion Picture Association of America curledupdvd.com rating: 3 stars
Actors: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil
Director: Alexandre Aja   Distributor: 20th Century Fox
DVD release: 13 January 2009   Runtime: 110 minutes (1 disc)
Format: AC-3, Color, Dolby, Dubbed, DVD-Video, Subtitled, Widescreen, NTSC
DVD features: Aspect ratio 2.40:1, Audio tracks (5.1 Dolby Surround - English; Dolby Surround - French, Spanish), Subtitles (English, Spanish), R-rated and unrated extended cuts of feature film, "Reflections: The Making of Mirrors" featurette, "Behind The Mirror" featurette, Deleted scenes (w/ optional commentary by dir. Alexandre Aja), "Inside The Mirror" alternate ending

I am a huge fan of Kiefer Sutherland because of 24. Being a horror geek as well, I was intrigued at the notion of him starring in a new film by Alexandre Aja, who directed the great-for-two-thirds-of-the-way horror film Haute Tension. (I say two-thirds great because the ending is an absolute mess, but that's another review.) However, while Mirrors (which is a remake of a 2003 Korean thriller titled "Into the Mirror") does deliver some good scares at times, it ultimately treads over too-familiar territory and makes the mistake of drowning itself in special effects near the end. As a result, while worth watching, it fails to live up to expectations.

The story: Ben Carson (Sutherland) is an ex-cop who accidentally shot and killed his partner. The tragedy left him an alcoholic and estranged from his wife (Paula Patton) and kids. Now living with his sister (Amy Smart), he becomes determined to rebuild his life and starts by taking a job as the night watchmen at a burned-out department store - a five level monstrosity complete with long, damp hallways and mirrors from floor to ceiling. Soon Ben, alone in the dark, starts noticing strange visions occurring in the mirrors - and discovers that these terrifying visions are not limited to the store but have begun to appear in the homes of his sister and estranged wife. Can Ben figure out what the demons in the mirrors want in time to save his loved ones?

The art direction within the burned-out store is the strongest aspect of the film. Many of the set pieces, such as a hallway lined with mannequins (their faces partially melted) and a claustrophobic circular changing room with stalls covered by damp curtains, are downright creepy. These settings, in which we are alone with just Ben and his flashlight, are scary enough so that when the special effects start happening, it's almost more a relief than a scare (more on that later).

In the making-of featurette, director Aja states that he has tremendous admiration for Stanley Kubrick's The Shining and acknowledges that he jumped at the chance to make his own version. While I appreciate that he admires Kubrick's masterpiece (which I feel is the greatest horror film of all time), one rule that he does not follow, unfortunately, is "less is more." Kubrick knew that The Overlook hotel was frightening enough; the scare set-pieces are few and far between yet timed so perfectly and played to such maximum effect (the twins in the hall, the woman in the tub, the elevator of blood) that they remain horrifying to this day. Aja starts well, but he seems to lose control near the end. The wailing mirror effects and the appearance of a demon near the end are not only overblown but are also a case of "seen it already" in countless other horror films of the past five or so years.

Said it before and will say it again: over-the-top gory special effects are not in and of themselves scary. They need to be set up by the story to work (in contrast, I watched the old '70s haunted-house flick Burnt Offerings a day or so after Mirrors and was struck how the final shot of Burnt Offerings - a simple shot of three framed portraits sitting on a table - is much scarier than the effects-laden conclusion of Mirrors.)

One other problem: though Patton as Ben's wife is drop-dead gorgeous, she doesn't give a good performance and has almost no chemistry with Sutherland. I just could not buy them as a couple. Furthermore, her role in the film as a head NYC coroner is a prime example of what I call the Denise Richards rule - named for the actress with the pretty face and zero acting talent who somehow finds herself playing characters of near-genius intelligence (such as her role in a James Bond thriller as a - yeah, right - nuclear physicist), as if the producers are trying to say "See? She's smart! We didn't cast her just for her looks!" To be fair to Patton, Meryl Streep could probably not have done much with this generic role (doubt her husband and look worried at first, then act panicked and fight to save her kids at the end), but she's still miscast.

I have seen horror films much worse than Mirrors, and it's still worth a least a rental for horror fans, particularly for the art direction within the store. Still, I was disappointed. I guess I just expected more from Kiefer, as well as from Aja. It was worth a try, but maybe Kiefer is better off battling terrorists than demons.

  • Deleted scenes and alternate ending (with commentary)
  • A long making-of featurette
  • An entertaining and informative doc called "Into the Mirror" delineating the role mirrors have played in the world's cultures and religions.
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reviewed by Trent Daniel
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