Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Movie Appraisal: Mirrors (2008)


Mirrors is the American re-imagining (rather than a straight remake) of the South Korean film Into the Mirror, which I reviewed a few days ago. That movie, the South Korean one, was an absolutely brilliant film, full of both subtext and interesting moments that kept me both interested and intrigued from beginning to end. I enjoyed the subtlety of the movie, the intelligence of the film, and ultimately how it handled both the horror and the mystery of its story. Mirrors is an incredibly different film, taking very little from Into the Mirror besides a starting horror premise, a few select scenes, and the main character. Oh, and the ending, even though it doesn't make any sense for that ending to be there like it did in the South Korean film, where it was foreshadowed throughout. Ah well, let's get this thing started, shall we?

Directed by Alexandre Aja and starring Kiefer Sutherland literally just being Jack Bauer, it is a movie that doesn't know what it's trying to do, and also clearly doesn't understand the source material.

You know what? No. I won't even say that. Redact that. Take it back, and forget about it. This is a movie that kind of and sort of understands that Into the Mirror was a good movie, had some great scenes, had some great philosophy, and ultimately thought that an intelligent movie couldn't translate to American audiences. Because, ultimately the story feels forced. It feels like whole storylines were tacked on. It feels like the original intention of what the movie meant was put on the back-burner for gore effects, a relationship, and highlighting actors and actresses that literally did not know how to act.

I want to blame Aja here, but I feel it probably is a much deeper problem than just him. The film is directed competently. That's what I don't get. I don't get how it can be directed decently but written like a five year old trying to translate the original film. It's so simplistic, losing both subtlety and nuance until nothing is left of the original plot but scenes ripped straight from the Korean film.

If you read my synopsis of the plot of Into the Mirror, this plot is vaguely similar. Kiefer Sutherland plays Ben, a detective who shot someone (which never comes up again) and is off the force because of reasons. The only reason this backstory of the character is kept is so that Ben can grab up information from his old detective friend and be good at investigating THINGS and STUFF. It's so convenient it's stupid.

Ultimately the first half of this movie is pretty solid. I liked it as an opposing way of telling the same (or a very similar) story. Large sections of the first half involve Kiefer Sutherland alone and dealing with hallucinations in mirrors in a burnt out department store where he works as a night security guard. I like this a bit as it owns a different kind of story than the Korean film. And, in all honesty, I found the reopening of the department store in that movie to be pretty overdone and a little silly at times.

This movie sticks with a mystery premise, but instead of crime and money being at play here, we instead get demons and a psychiatric hospital. And mostly we get a psychomanteum (a room with all the walls being mirrors). And that's the big difference. It's primarily an Americanized difference. Of course the old department store was built over a psychiatric hospital where the patients all killed one another. THAT'S OBVIOUS.

The Americanization stuck out to me like a sore thumb. The gore, the relationship pieces of the plot, and the complete disregard for the source material really showed me how much I sometimes can loathe these remakes. While this one had its moments, there were times when I was literally seething with anger watching this movie. And I guess I should get into why.

Gratuitous gore? Did I mention there was gratuitous gore? Holy shit, do I have to mention that. All of the gore scenes are hard to watch (all two of them). My bile was rising when Amy Smart's reflection (Amy Smart playing Angie, the sister of Kiefer Sutherland's Ben) decided to pull apart her own jaw. I don't know what the point of that scene was unless it was just there to horrify, in which case, sure, it succeeded. I was made uncomfortable and creeped out by the scenes. I just don't know quite what the artistic merits of that scene were supposed to be. I assume there were none, and it was all about just being as scary as possible- even though the CGI effects were both obvious and somewhat poorly done at times. I kind of wish there would have been more gore in the film, if only so the movie would have had a second half that might have been scary or interesting in the slightest. Alas though, why would the gore continue in the second half?

Another gripe I have is that the ghosts from Into the Mirror (or the reflections or whatever you want to call them) simply didn't attack innocent people. They went after the guilty, those who were involved in murder, covering up a murder, or refusing to compensate victims of the arson. The victims all were guilty of a terrible crime or two, with none of them being upstanding citizens being punished by the spirit in the mirror. But this film has the innocents being punished, which seems to literally go against the premise of the initial film, and maybe go against what ghosts are supposed to be. Then again, Mirrors doesn't have a ghost in it. It just has a weird mirror-bound demon that somehow can go into any mirror without explanation. It's really dumb and nonsensical and completely tears aside the plotting and well-thought out pieces of the original. I could just keep saying that. This movie doesn't live up to the original. It's not a good movie. It insults the original by existing.

Shots are way overdone. Wow. While there is a focus on artistic shooting at times, the shots become overwhelming in this simple horror film. In the beginning of the film they kind of work a bit, but eventually they just start taking the focus away from the interesting bits of the story, and focus instead on the most obvious. There are some pretty well done shots though, again in the first half of the film, like Ben going down the stairs his first night as a watchman in the burnt out store or some of the night shots in the department store. Amy Smart's death was also quite well done, as is the subsequent reveal of her death to Kiefer. That was the final good shot in the movie though, and with the second half focusing more on Ben's family than the story, the good shots fell aside, replaced instead with insipid dialogue and vacuous scenes.

There is no subtlety here, just jump scares galore, something I am less than fond of. It takes the creeping menace of the Korean film and completely dumbs it down to something that is very American in its horror. It does this rather than focus on character moments and dimensions of the horror universe that we see. Instead the focus is on set-pieces, jumps scares, and long scenes with nothing really happening. The mystery of the movie has disappeared, replaced instead by dumb moments of what I believe the filmmakers think of as "psychological horror." Even more egregious are the times when characters simply come out and say the obvious for the benefit (and only the benefit) of the audience, who they think must be far too stupid to understand what their brilliance is trying to say. "Water creates reflections." No, I would have never guessed that. I WOULD HAVE NEVER GUESSED. It's not obvious to me at all. It needed to be stated in my directed as if I were a simple baby-child who has never heard languages spoken before. In fact maybe I'm not even a human at all, but an insect-person who does not understand your simple language or the subtleties of performance. This is why I need things stated at me. I need the relationship between Kiefer and his estranged wife because I wouldn't understand a story about a man searching through a department store for ghosts if he also weren't successful at one point and had a romantic interest. I needed the relationship because if he didn't have one, I simply wouldn't understand. I would be lost and confused. A single man? A single man in MY MOVIE that I AM WATCHING? I simply can't handle that. It's too much. I'm about to have a breakdown.

The relationship is the biggest failure of the movie, and also the largest original addition to it. I can't begin to state how much I loathe it, how much I despise it, and how much it shouldn't be there. Taking that out takes out a big problem with this movie, the problem of Americanization of a great premise. A straight remake would have made too much sense... and obviously would have been too intelligent for audiences here. And that's why all the philosophy and interesting concepts are dumbed down or removed entirely and why a relationship is added and horror and terror are taken away. This movie is designed to appeal to everyone, and instead it is mediocre at best and forgettable even on a good day.

Kid actors are terrible. I have to mention that because nearly all of the actors besides Kiefer and the brief appearance by Jason Flemyng as Ben's detective friend are universally awful. The child actors are especially horrid to behold, but even Paula Patton as Ben's wife Amy and Amy Smart are terrible. Their acting makes me want to cringe. And with Kiefer doing his best jack Bauer impersonation, he isn't much better. The thing is, at least he seems to be trying. He has enough charisma to make up for a bad plot or bad writing or whatever. Feature him throughout this movie and it might work. Feature other uninteresting and bland character whose actors can't act, and the movie falls apart. And that's exactly what happened. The plot with the family of Ben is completely superfluous to the actual plot. It being added into the story makes the story feel very bloated and frankly boring in response. The end of the movie feels like two different movies are playing out at the same time. And that is simply unacceptable for me.

When the ending comes around, and the mirror ghosts are just demon(s) and Kiefer Sutherland kidnaps a nun-

Wait.

Give me a second.





...



I need a moment to collect my thoughts.

Thoughts collected.

Did Kiefer Sutherland just kidnap a nun? Is this movie seriously culminating in Jack Bauer kidnapping a nun? This is literally the best movie. I take everything back. Nun kidnapping makes this movie more unique and greater than anything else. Every movie should involve the protagonist kidnapping a nun. I know Indiana Jones would have been miles better if he had been kidnapping nuns instead of fighting the Nazis.

I don't know what else to say. The nun gets possessed and Jack Bauer kills the demonified nun to death, in the process rehashing the ending of Into the Mirror without a fundamental understanding of that film. And that's it. I have a bad taste in my mouth. So, I want to wrap this review up.

Mirrors has its moments. At times it can almost be a decent film. The first half isn't terrible. Hell, it's almost good at times. The gore, although outrageous, was also quite creepy, effective at putting me into a creeped out mindset. The problems though, are too many to name, even though I certainly named quite a few. Comparing this movie to Into the Mirror will just make you sad. I suppose on its own it might be serviceable at times, but ultimately I think it fails as both a horror movie and an interesting one. I found the plot far too bloated, the story silly and over dumb at times, the characters flat and uninteresting, and the mirror possessions nonsensical. It is a movie that is fascinating though, in a way, because it shows how a movie can be bastardized to something sick and twisted for American audiences. I do not recommend this movie. Stick with the original Korean film.

Mirrors is a real stinker even with its few good scenes.

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