“Mirrors” operates on two creepy devices that have long been staples of horror movies. One is where a movie character looks into her bathroom mirror, looks away, and when she looks back again there is someone behind her. The other device, less common but still a classic, is the one where someone moves but his reflection in the mirror doesn’t. The idea of your mirror image acting independently from you is profoundly unsettling.
The effect wears off when it’s overused, though, and “Mirrors” really doesn’t have much up its sleeve other than parlor tricks and gimmicks. It’s based on a Korean film called “Into the Mirror,” and like most Asian-horror remakes it boils down to a simple formula: Weird stuff happens; the hero determines that an angry spirit is seeking vengeance; the hero must finish the spirit’s business or pacify it in some other way; the end. Given the skimpiness of the story, the film ought to have been wrapped up in a lot less than 110 minutes.
Kiefer Sutherland stars as Ben Carson, a former NYPD detective now on leave after a shooting. His guilt and alcoholism have fractured his marriage to Amy (Paula Patton), a medical examiner, and he’s been sleeping on the couch at his sister Angela’s (Amy Smart) apartment. He barely gets to see his children (Erica Gluck and Cameron Boyce).
Desperate for work, Ben takes a job as a night watchman at a burned-out department store awaiting renovation. Dozens were killed in the blaze some years back, and Ben almost instantly starts seeing weird things in the mirrors that still occupy almost every wall in the building. It would seem that rather than reflecting what’s in front of them, the mirrors are playing back things that happened in the past. After a particularly unsettling bout with the devil-mirrors and their hellish images, Ben says, “F*** this place,” which is something that you’d think people in movies like this would say more often.
It’s at the film’s halfway point that Ben says to an incredulous Amy, “What if the mirrors are showing something that’s beyond our reality?” He has correctly summarized the situation, but obviously it sounds crazy. (Later, Amy wails, “I should have believed you!,” and I thought, “Really? When he was saying the mirrors were trying to kill him?”) The rest of the film has him switching into Jack Bauer mode: learning the truth, demanding answers from reluctant sources, and shouting into cell phones. This is an improvement over the first half, where he just runs around the dilapidated department store screaming like a ninny and firing bullets into unbreakable mirrors.
The film was directed by French sicko Alexandre Aja (“High Tension,” “The Hills Have Eyes”) and written by him and Gregory Levasseur, his usual collaborator. This is three films in a row from Aja that demonstrate his technical skill while squandering his potential. “Mirrors” mostly avoids over-the-top grotesqueness (save for one genuinely jaw-dropping scene), and it does not wallow in violence as much as Aja’s previous work did. But the story itself is unoriginal, and the more details we learn, the sillier the whole thing sounds. It has a few tense moments, a couple mild scares, and that’s it.
C (1 hr., 50 min.; )