February 17, 2009
When Alexandre Aja burst on the scene with a clever little French horror film called High Tension (2003), he was almost immediately heralded by some as injecting a foul breath of new air into the horror genre which had become safe and predictable. He was lumped in with the other “splat pack” auteurs notorious for not holding back on squeamishly grotesque violence: Eli Roth (Hostel), Greg McLean (Wolf Creek) and Rob Zombie (The Devil’s Rejects) among others. Aja has since gone Hollywood remaking Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes (2006) and his latest Mirrors (2008) which stars Kiefer Sutherland, but he has not lost his taste for gruesome violence.
Aja wastes no time spilling the red stuff as a frightened security guard slashes open his own throat from a broken shard from a mirror in the opening prologue. The director also demonstrates a knack for creepy ambiance as the death takes place in a deserted locker room complete with all of the locker doors slowly opening on their own, much to the dismay of the guard before he tops himself.
Ben Carson (Sutherland) is a disgraced New York City Police detective who has quit the force and now works as a security guard for a burnt out department store – the victim of a fire that ravaged the premises five years ago but is now mired in a legal battle amongst insurance companies. He’s an alcoholic and estranged from his wife and two kids but with this new job he hopes to get his life back on track.
At night, Ben patrols the grounds of the decaying department store that, amidst the debris, features an impressive collection of unusually clean mirrors. The store is the perfect setting for Aja to lay on the creepy atmosphere with darkened hallways, creaky doors and old, foreboding architecture. However, these things are the least of Ben’s worries. It’s those damn mirrors that really start to put the zap on him. In his reflection, Ben sees himself horribly disfigured or engulfed in flames. Is he cracking up or is something else going on?
Kiefer Sutherland does a good as a man tortured by his past and gradually coming apart at the seams because of his current job. He brings his trademark intensity to the role while also making us sympathetic to his plight. This helps elevate Mirrors above the usual gorefest. The mystery of the department store fire is also a fascinating aspect of the film as it provides clues to the otherworldly nature of the mirrors.
Aja still loves to depict and dwell on graphic death sequences that suggest he would like to be known as France’s answer to Dario Argento but he lacks the Maestro’s visual flair. That being said, Mirrors is Aja’s best film since High Tension with an engrossing story, strong performances from the cast, and characters you actually care about. It’s not just a series of kills strung together with a perfunctory story.
In a nice touch, you have the option of watch the theatrical or unrated version of the film.
“Reflections: The Making of Mirrors” takes a look at various phases of production and gives one an idea of all the work that went into creating the impressive sets. Alexandre Aja says that he was interested in doing a supernatural horror film a la The Shining (1980). He was approached by the film’s producer to loosely remake a Korean horror film Into the Mirror. Aja was a big fan of Kiefer Sutherland’s performance in Flatliners (1990) and wanted him for the film.
“Behind the Mirror” examines the concept of mirrors in our culture and mythology. Experts talk about a famous story about mirrors in Greek mythology. This featurette also gives a brief history of mirrors and how they are viewed in various cultures.
Finally, there are seven deleted scenes and one alternate scene with an optional commentary by Aja. Some highlights include a scene that provides more motivation for Ben becoming a security guard. There is more footage of the impressive department store set. Also present is a slightly different ending that they weren’t please with and rightly cut.