DVD - Image N/A Sound A Extras D+
BD - Image A Sound A Extras C-
starring Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck
screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Grégory Levasseur
directed by Alexandre Aja
by Ian Pugh You have to hand it to Alexandre Aja: Although he applies his marginal talent to different ends from within his genre of choice, he remains fairly consistent in his psychotic bursts of rage and complete obliviousness to the same. Whether he's making awful, sadistic horror flicks that pretend to be about nothing (his anti-lesbian screed High Tension) or--somehow worse--awful, sadistic horror flicks that pretend to be about something (his remake of The Hills Have Eyes and now Mirrors), his targets are clear. In his eyes, women and rural folk are by turns cowardly, evil, and idiotic, deserving of nothing but a horrific death. How anyone could lump his brand of bloodthirsty hatred in with Tarantino or Argento--both real artists who have grappled with their own desires and talents in the context of fiction and reality--is, frankly, beyond me. Hell, even Eli Roth, for all his puerile masturbation and inexplicable worship of the nasty Cannibal Holocaust, has questioned his own methods on occasion. When Aja rips off Amy Smart's mandible just seconds after she steps into a bathtub in Mirrors, there's no thrill, no shock, no sense of accountability--only the niggling, terrifying conjecture that this man would go out and hurt someone given half the chance.
After thoroughly fucking up the giallo and the American gothic horror film, Aja takes a half-hearted stab at The Shining, rendering its implicit themes of forced introspection embarrassingly literal. Our Jack Torrance is Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland), a recovering alcoholic and ex-NYPD detective separated from his wife, Amy (Paula Patton), after accidentally shooting an undercover cop. Ben is forced to take a job as night watchman at a burned-down department store, where he immediately notices something sinister lurking in the mirrors, manipulating reality at will...and, what's more, threatening to kill his family unless he goes on a few errands for them. Because he's been taking strong psychotropic drugs to cope with life, no one believes him, and we're subject to a great many speeches about man's relationship to his reflection. Yet Mirrors soon grows bored of its own superficial explorations of the proverbial Darkness Within, resorting to false-alarm scares and empty violence to get its points across. This trend repeats for a good hour-and-a-half, until you're not quite sure if there ever was a point beyond the humiliation and evisceration of the psycho bitches who dared question our hero.
Once it has thoroughly abandoned the idea that anything but supernatural forces are at work here (and that happens pretty quickly), the film remolds its protagonist into a hotheaded Jack Bauer redux as Ben roughly interrogates innocent suspects to stop the mirror demons and find the bomb strapped to his family. But, see, as soon as Ben drops all pretenses of his first-act-friendly "tragic flaws," the demons can't be said to terrorize his loved ones so much as they clear a path to him becoming a macho knight in shining armour. The villains are practically self-rationalizing, while the many women who serve as nagging obstructions on his quest (ice queen Amy, skeptical sister Angie (Smart), unwilling demon conduit Anna Esseker (Mary Beth Peil)) are reduced to quivering piles of flesh (literal and figurative) upon contact with these evil spirits, destined to be protected/mourned/destroyed by a newly-validated Ben. As far as hero tropes go, it's decidedly crazier and angrier than most; the ending may be a downer, but we all know who ends up the righteous dude in a sea of ineffectual femininity. You stay classy, Alexandre.
At the very least, Mirrors indicates that the most deplorable aspects of Aja's filmmaking technique are at last unravelling into unintentional camp. Before long, Ben starts screaming with Faye Dunaway levels of intensity and falls back on his service pistol to solve his problems; and when the source of the trouble is (naturally) traced to a family of backwoods hicks, it leads to a trek into bone-chilling Pennsylvania, presumably right down the road from Mr. Burns's vampyric country house. Will Aja's 3-D sequel-cum-remake of the notorious Piranha finally be his undoing? One can only hope. Until that shining day, we're stuck with a movie about mirrors that's sorely lacking in self-reflection.
Fox sent us another "white coaster" DVD-R in lieu of a retail pull of Mirrors, so between the pixellation and the watermarks, there goes any chance of judging the image quality of the picture's 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer. The DD 5.1 audio sounds fairly impressive: Every startling fake scare is accompanied by a heavy LFE punch that rattled my subwoofer but good. My copy opened with the option to view either the theatrical or unrated version, though for the life of me I couldn't detect any substantial differences between the two--at least, not where such labels really matter. A torn-off jaw shown from different angles with a few more geysers of blood is still a torn-off jaw.
Special Features begin with "Reflections: The Making of Mirrors" (48 mins.), an overlong paean to a movie that no one should bother watching in the first place. Apparently it was intended as a remake of the Korean thriller Into the Mirror before Aja got his hands on it, transforming the concept into an "hommage" (snicker) to The Shining. What you ultimately take from this--beyond Aja's pseudo-intellectualism and purely technical information (turns out that filming a movie with lots of mirrors is kinda difficult)--is that the key to horror films is being scary. Oh, and, big shocker, the key to acting is being dramatic. Next up is "Behind the Mirror" (18 mins.), which gathers together these, like, doctors and occultists who talk about how Mirrors is grounded in mythology and psychology and shit. As if the movie's painfully expository dialogue needed an appendix. A handful of "Deleted and Alternate Scenes" feature even more exposition, if you can believe it, and several unused endings (along with a somehow duller version of the climax that excises the final she-demon fight altogether) that imply they were originally planning on pulling "Twilight Zone" twists several times over before the closing credits rolled. Optional commentary from Aja and his usual co-writer Grégory Levasseur over these elisions pretty much gives obvious, identical reasons for their removal--along with a few more references to The Shining--but I stopped listening to what these guys had to say a long time ago.
THE BLU-RAY DISC
by Bill Chambers To a certain extent, Mirrors becomes paradoxically less palatable the better it looks, its Guignol elements rendered all the more stomach-turning by a finely-honed image. Be that as it may, the picture's power to disturb--if not its yuck! factor--is alleviated by the absurdly high level of detail (of the fine and shadow varieties) on the picture's Blu-ray release, which throws into relief not only the faint hint of a tan line on Amy Smart's buttocks, but also the seams of CG embellishments to prosthetic effects. Overall, this 2.40:1, 1080p transfer is almost irreproachable, some of the most filmlike HiDef I've seen thanks in no small part to an impressively unmolested grain structure. Alexandre Aja may not have a soul, but he does have an eye, and it's done justice here--even if the black levels rarely seem black enough. The presentation gleams, appropriately, while the accompanying 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio--rather redundantly outfitted with D-Box enhancement (the track's bass already deserves to be measured on the Richter scale without it)--is crisp and enveloping, albeit never not overkill.
The DVD's extras surface on the BD (including an option to watch the theatrical or unrated cut) as well, where they're joined by a handful of format exclusives in standard-def except as noted. "Anna Esseker Hospital Footage" (6 mins.) is a longer version of the faux-home-movie flashback; unpersuasive when it's not cut to ribbons, it's confusingly pitched somewhere between style for style's sake and documentary, as the little girl keeps making eye contact with the camera. An "Animated Storyboard Sequence" (2 mins., 1080p) for the bathtub murder is kind of hilarious due to the sketches having a vague Charles Schultz quality--imagine Peppermint Patty getting her jaw ripped off. (The unidentified artist has also scrupulously drawn nipples despite indications that the actor's bosom would fall below the frame line.) Lastly, "BonusVIEW", available to Profile 1.1 users as a PIP feature, provides access to 45 minutes' worth of poorly-miked B-roll interweaved with production art and stills. Viewable either in one lump sum or as 24 individual segments, this material is completely fucking useless and scored with a solemn gravity that's far from earned. HD trailers for Max Payne, The X Files: I Want to Believe, and Valkyrie cue up on startup. Find inside the keepcase a Digital Copy of the film on DVD. Originally published: February 16, 2009.