Into the Mirror (2003) Movie Review

“Into the Mirror” isn’t very original, and despite all of its visual wizardry, the story is heavily influenced by the Slow Bore Horror conventions popularized by “The Ring”. Depending on how you feel about this particular subgenre, this may be a good or a bad thing.

“Into the Mirror” stars Ji-tae Yu (“Natural City”) as Yeong-min, an ex-cop relegated to security guard duty at a department store after a botched hostage rescue ended his police career. The store has its own tainted past: a recent fire resulted in injuries, and the store is just now getting ready to re-open. But when employees start to turn up dead, Yeong-min, who would rather whittle his time getting drunk and feeling sorry for himself, is forced to investigate. He butts heads with Hyeon-su (Myeong-min Kim, “Sorum”), a Detective from his past. As more bodies start to mount, and evidence starts to accumulate, it becomes clear that a ghost is taking over people’s bodies using their reflections as a conduit…

In a lot of ways — and probably to its detriment — “Into the Mirror” is much more clever than it is scary. When director Seong-ho Kim and cinematographer Han-cheol Jeong pulls a fast one on you, the reaction won’t be, “Oh my God, that was scary,” but more along the lines of, “Wow, they completely pulled a fast one on me!” This, ironically, deprives the film of much of its scare factor. There are some creepy moments, especially near the beginning, but the rest of the film will feel as if someone switched genres on you without prior warning. In this case, a bit less obvious camera tricks and more cinema verite would have helped to scare the audience.

Although “Mirror” opens well, starting with a clever supernatural killing in the bathroom and adding two bodies to the bodycount before the first 30 minutes are up, the film bogs down for much of its middle section. In almost no time, the film reveals its premise: that a woman who died in the store fire a year ago had a twin sister, and the twin sister believes the dead sister has returned for revenge on her fellow store employees. Cop Hyeong-su is left to investigate the motives behind the murders, while Yeong-min takes the supernatural route. And if you’ve seen “Ring”, then the ending here will be nothing new.

Another poor choice by writer/director Kim is to give the ghost psychokinetic powers — meaning she can manipulate lights, doors, and elevators. Had the film confined the ghost’s powers to just being able to manipulate reflections in mirrors (or other reflective objects) the mood would have remained atmospheric and suspenseful, as characters attempt to avoid shiny objects that can reflect back their image and thus kill them. (Think the darkness gimmick of “Darkness Falls”, but with mirrors.) Why stretch the ghost’s abilities when limiting it would have been so much more effective for the film’s overall sense of paranoia?

Character-wise, “Into the Mirror” is pretty conventional. There’s the hero with a haunted past he can’t forget; the arrogant cop who bullies the locals; the money-crazed businessman who wants to open the store at all costs; and of course, the trademark of all Asian horror films, the Really Quiet Heroine Who Stands In the Background and Looks Really Docile. Ji-tae Yu makes a good showing as the haunted hero, although the script goes a bit overboard with his haunted past angle. It’s perfectly legitimate to give your hero pathos so the audience will feel sympathy, but when almost 30 minutes of your movie is spent on nothing but pathos, it gets to be a bit ridiculous, not to mention more than a little gratuitous.

“Into the Mirror’s” esoteric take on duality and the meaning of perception are interesting, but oftentimes one gets the feeling the script’s more cerebral elements are minor diversions that the filmmakers quickly lose interest with almost as soon as they bring them up. Most of the film’s thoughts on “mirror worlds” and other abstract concepts are really interesting, but you just don’t get a sense that the filmmakers care enough, and would rather go back to the plodding murder mystery. In this way, “Into the Mirror” approaches its ghost story in the same dull, banal way similar to the Taiwanese horror film “Double Vision”.

Also worth mentioning is the movie’s twist ending, which re-defines the term “coming out of left field for no real purpose”. Not only does the Big Reveal make little sense, I’m not entirely sure if its existence is for any purpose other than to supply a Big Reveal to keep the audience buzzing as they leave the theaters. Another odd element of the script is that it seems to want the audience to consider all the ghostly happenings as paranoia and mental mirages, but of course the fact that we do see a vengeful ghost appearing consistently seems to make this idea moot.

“Into the Mirror” isn’t the best horror film South Korea has produced. I wouldn’t even call it horror at all since it loses any ability to scare so fast. Once the initial killings are done at the 30-minute mark, “Mirror” feels more like a run-of-the-mill cop movie with minor spurts of supernatural elements. It’s not very scary, although it is somewhat atmospheric when it wants to be. There’s a lot of potential here, but not enough ideas to further the horror theme. As a cop film it would have been wonderful; then again, it is about a ghost, so there you go.

Seong-ho Kim (director) / Seong-ho Kim (screenplay)
CAST: Ji-tae Yu …. Woo Yeong-min
Myeong-min Kim …. Heo Hyeon-su
Hye-na Kim …. Lee Ji-hyeon

Buy Into the Mirror on DVD