Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart, Jason Flemyng
Story: A burnt-out ex-cop turned night guard (Kiefer Sutherland) works in a burnt-out shopping centre with strangely preserved mirrors. There is something in them – some force which turns the reflections against their originals. If you’re killed in the mirror, the wounds appear on your own flesh and you die. Ghosts from the past need to be appeased, and Jack Bauer must find the truth about a certain girl before it’s too late for his family...
Review: Alexandre Aja burst onto the horror scene with his furiously ingenious apotheosis of slasher, HIGH TENSION (Haute Tension, 2003). His gloriously gory and gloomily romantic horror debut made him look like a messiah of this genre. Two remakes later, this role becomes highly questionable.
His re-imagining of Craven’s classic THE HILLS HAVE EYES (1977), made in 2006, upped the brutality and stylization, but dulled the satiric and intellectual edge of the potent story, in his version reduced to a mere Grand Guignol. In his third horror outing, Aja wrestles with the South Korean spook fest INTO THE MIRROR (Geoul Sokeuro, 2003) directed by Sung-ho Kim. In this case there’s no aura of a classic to be afraid of, but the expectations of horror fans are understandably high. Alas, his MIRRORS have more than a few cracks.
INTO THE MIRROR is your average Korean horror flick: a good concept that’s, eventually, half-baked; a memorable opening scene that is never to be matched by anything later in the film; and a strong social criticism added so that the dull thrills and non-horrific scary scenes at least have SOME kind of ’weight’. There’s too much meandering between the solid opening and a fine closing scene, too many missed opportunities and a completely unnecessary subplot which ultimately reduces the scare factor to zero once you realize the whole thing is a revenge-from-beyond-the-grave aimed at very specific bad guys.
In his version, Aja wisely keeps only the start and finish, together with the essential premise, but changes all the rest, mostly for the better. From the very beginning of the USA version it’s obvious that this won’t be a carbon copy of the Korean: an elegant cut on the neck in the original produced a gentle trickle on a woman’s skin; in the remake, a gush on a man’s neck spouts gushes of blood all over the place. The opening credits are also borrowed from Korea, but made more dynamic and show-offy, and accompanied by the bombastic, impressive score by Javier Navarrete (TESIS, DEVIL’S BACKBONE, PAN’S LABYRINTH...). So much about subtlety.
Essentially, MIRRORS follows the trend of Americanizing the Asian horror films: Eastern subtlety, slow rhythm and suggestiveness are replaced by the faster, more aggressive and spectacular effects – but, at least in this case, such an approach improves the original. It is a more visceral, but also scarier film with a clever use of the elaborate set of the burnt-out department store, shadows, sounds, music and visual effects.
However, the problems begin and end with the lazily written screenplay, with clichés that are neither overcome nor masked well enough: a tortured, pill-popping ex-cop with a trauma and guilty consciousness, his annoyingly mistrustful ex-wife (who still loves him!) and their sugar-sweet kiddies (ugh!) are too stale to swallow, additionally so due to Aja’s still imperfect English which reduces the dialogues to the cut & paste phrases from deja vu films. It doesn’t help that Kiefer Sutherland’s one-note acting is too reminiscent of his 24 role: too often he looks and sounds exactly like Jack Bauer, which makes the would-be scary scenes more laughable. It is more entertaining and eye-pleasing to replace the brightly-lit and dull-white setting of the freshly-reopened department from the Korean version with the blackened ruin in the American version, but even this triumph of set design, with its half-melted mannequins, becomes boring once you see that the characters roaming the film are not much livelier than the said mannequins.
The uninspired script abandons the satire and social criticism of the original, but can’t think of anything better to replace them with than yet another RING-circle: the hero must investigate the past of a certain female ghost; he goes to the rural backwoods to find her family (why are they always in the rural regions?); he discovers the history of abuse against her (mad scientist included!) and must literally wrestle with her embodied spirit in the store’s basement in the end. This whole thing is well directed: Aja knows how to stage an inventive gore set-piece, he’s good with suspense too, but the one-dimensional and unoriginal script prevents him from making a truly scary film. What we’re left with are two memorable scenes (the opening one, and the one with the jaw, seen in the trailers) an improved ending scene, excellent score, camera and effects and... that’s all folks!
As a remake of an Asian horror MIRRORS stands pretty well above most of the other attempts, and –even without comparisons with the original- it is a perfectly watchable horror flick. The trouble is that it doesn’t bother to extract more visual and connotative potentials from the potent archetypal motifs of mirrors and doppelgangers than it has to. The final score is in accordance with the lowered ambitions. Crack!