Format: DVD from Sycamore Public Library on basement television
I remember hearing about Mirrors when it first came out…for about a week and then it vanished entirely from my consciousness. It wasn’t until it appeared on the latest version of the They Shoot Zombies list that it returned to my consciousness, so I hunted it down to watch. This movie is directed by Alexandre Aja, whose career is a bit of a mixed bag. High points are Haute Tension and the ridiculous creature feature Crawl, but he’s had some low points as well. Mirrors is a bit of a low point, so I guess I’m spilling the beans on this one right away.
We’re going to start with the movie giving the game away in the opening sequence. A security guard (Josh Cole) runs in terror through a deserted subway station. He winds up in a locker room, and suddenly realizes that the room contains mirrors—more than he originally thought as all of the lockers open and reveal mirrors inside of them. The man begs for his life, but when one of the mirrors breaks, the largest reflection picks up a shard and cuts his own throat. The wounds appear on the security guard, killing him.
So, within the first few minutes, we understand that there is something going on with mirrors, at least in some places. We are next introduced to Ben Carson (Keifer Sutherland), a suspended cop who is estranged from his family and reduced to working as a security guard. I’ll give you one guess as to who he is replacing.
Ben’s new job is at a department store called the Mayflower, which was completely destroyed by a fire several years previously. He tags in for the night shift and discovers that many of the mirrors in the place are spotless despite the building being a complete ruin. His predecessor, he is told, kept the mirrors polished. That night, Ben discovers some oddities with the mirrors. He sees a door open in the reflection of one mirror with the door is actually closed. More disturbing, he finds a handprint on one of the mirrors, but it won’t rub off, because it’s evidently on the inside of the glass.
This is a very good indication of exactly what the problem is with Mirrors. If we didn’t have the opening scene, if we’d had some other way to show us that the world we were in was a scary one and slightly off (or if we’d just started with Ben going to work as a security guard), the handprint on the inside of the mirror would be really disturbing. It would indicate that things are off in this world and that something terrible is going to happen, but since we already know this, we also already know the explanation for it.
Anyway, as a former cop, Ben starts digging around and starts to involve his family, especially his wife Amy (Paula Patton), who thinks he is losing it. He gets access to the crime scene photos of the dead security guard and notices that the shard of glass in his hand is clean of blood, but the one in the mirror is bloody. Again, this would be awesome if we didn’t already know that story. Naturally, the things in the mirror start going after Ben’s family. He also manages to discover that the department store was originally (wait for it) the site of a mental hospital where there was a mass suicide, including the death of a girl named Anna Esseker (Mary Beth Piel), who may be still alive, because why wouldn’t she be?
Where the rest of this goes is pretty much exactly where you’re expecting the rest of it to go. Ben goes on the hunt to track down Anna Esseker, fueled by the death of his sister Angie (Amy Smart), who was also done in by the mirrors. His wife finally understand just how serious the problem is when she watches their son leave the room he is in while his reflection doesn’t move. Things eventually come to a head as the things in the mirrors try to get out and Ben tries to make sure that his family stays safe. It’s exactly what you’re expecting.
There’s a great deal of Mirrors that plays out like The Ring. It has the same general feel to it of a mystery that needs to be solved, and a mystery with a sort of time limit on it. In both cases, the protagonist’s child (or children in this case) are put in danger. The investigation, the tracking down of people connected to the terrible secrets of the past, all of this feels familiar in that sense.
And all of this is spoiled by that stupid opening scene. The reason The Ring works (and naturally Ringu works for the same reason) is that the audience is learning the truth as the characters do. We don’t know more than the people on screen know, and so when they learn something, it becomes a shock to us. It’s about the only thing that works in Sinister as well. It’s a dumb movie, but at least we don’t know all of the secrets in the first 10 minutes. The reveals that we get aren’t that special, because with the opening moments, we’re already twigged to expect something like what we get.
So, ultimately, Mirrors is a failure and disappointing in a way that is frustrating because it would be so easy to fix. Start with the obituary of the security guard with no real details and let us learn about what happened to him as the movie plays out. This wouldn’t make Mirrors into Citizen Kane, but it would at least make it interesting enough to recommend.
Why to watch Mirrors: It’s a fascinating concept.
Why not to watch: The opening scene spoils all the potential suspense.