Mirrors (Alexandre Aja, 2008)
I was about forty minutes into the hundred-odd-minute Mirrors last night when my wife, who's down with bronchitis, took some cold medicine and went to bed. I considered turning the movie off and coming back to it today, but I couldn't bring myself to do it. Why? Because I was seeing something I had never seen before--a good Alexandre Aja movie. No, seriously--a really good Alexandre Aja movie. (In my defense, when my wife takes cold medicine, twenty minutes later she has no idea whether I'm in bed with her or not. "Comatose" is a valid description.) I was expecting yet another stupid Hollywood remake (and with Alexandre Aja having helmed the epitome of the stupid Hollywood remake, the 2006 version of The Hills Have Eyes, I felt entirely justified in this). For the record, I have yet to see the film upon which this is based, the 2003 Korean project Into the Mirror, and maybe that changed my perception a bit. But oh, yes, I was completely immersed in this.
And then we got to the last five minutes. And that Nike I was waiting for clonked me in the back of the head, except by then I wasn't expecting it. Ever since I finished watching the silly thing, I've been trying to spin the ending a different way. Me, of all people, trying to figure out how to defend a film by a guy who, up until now, hadn't even figured out how to direct a good short! (I generally don't review shorts, only rate them; I caught his first project, Over the Rainbow, earlier this year. It got two stars mostly for its brevity.) I think this is a sign of the apocalypse.
In any case, the plot concerns an ex-cop named Ben Carson (Dark City's Kiefer Sutherland--who, let's face it, hasn't done a good film since the beginning of 24). Ben left the force after an incident that messed with his head enough that he fell into the bottom of a bottle, resulting in the breakup of his marriage (he's now sleeping on the couch of his sister Angela, played by Crank's Amy Smart) and a period of jobless wandering through a self-tortured life. He's started picking up the pieces, though, and newly sober, gets a job as a night watchman at a department store that burned down five years ago. (We're told that it's still being patrolled because the company is still tied up in a legal battle with the insurance company.) All well and good, except that ghostly goings-on begin his first night. He quickly finds out that every night watchman in the place, including the guy who originally burned the place to the ground, has had the same problems. You see, there's something wrong with the department store's mirrors. (This is not a spoiler; we find this out in the refreshingly gory opening scene.) Needless to say, whenever he tries to explain the mirror problem--to Angela, for example, or to his ex Amy (Precious' Paula Patton)--they look at him like he's nuts. How to convince them he's not before something unspeakable happens? And what do the things in the mirror want, anyway?
It's always been the case that the decent American remakes, or even the mediocre ones that still somehow manage to be worth watching (Verbinski's The Ring, for example, or Scorsese's The Departed), are based on top-notch flicks. Not to say there haven't been awful American remakes (did you see Bangkok Dangerous? No? Stay that way.), but the good ones? Yeah. So I'm guessing that Sung-ho Kim's original Geoul Sokeuro is a real barnburner, because the first hundred minutes of this movie are, at least for Alexandre Aja, absolute genius. The whole thing is about character and atmosphere. It is, in fact, the second (that I know of) Asian-horror-flick remake to actually get that bit right, and as a result, the film shines. Some of the criticism leveled at the movie has had to do with some bad acting by supporting players, and this is true, but none of the supporting players here gets a whole lot of screen time; this is Kiefer Sutherland's movie, and he carries it. (Some of the other criticisms say he's just reprising his Jack Bauer role. I've never seen 24, so I can't comment on that, but if so, I can see why the show's a hit.) The atmosphere is tense, and more importantly it's believable enough to let the viewer swallow enough disbelief to actually buy the rather ridiculous premise.
And then the final five minutes. Intellectually, I know I shouldn't hate them as much as I did. The ending probably even works in the original (though some of the things I've read lead me to believe the ending has been changed). And for the record, the final shot really is set up nicely all the way through the movie, and if you take it by itself, it's creepy and effective. But my god, the plot hole that gets blown through this movie in the final two scenes is unforgivable--especially because those scenes are right next to one another. It was as if Aja and his longtime writing partner Gregory Levasseur said "hey, we need one of those endings that sets up for a sequel (ed. note: which is in the process of being filmed as we speak, of course), who cares if it makes no sense in the context of the rest of the film?". And that's exactly what we got.
I wanted to love this movie. And had I turned it off five minutes before the end, I probably would have. ***