Being abnormally obsessed with Asian horror, about a year ago, on a whim, I bought “Into the Mirror” (“Geoul sokeuro,” 2003) through eBay. Written and directed by Sung-ho Kim, the film focuses on Woo Yeong-min (Ji-tae Yu of “Oldboy” fame), a traumatized former police officer who now works as a security guard in his uncle’s soon-to-open department store. The building, though, is plagued with problems, most notably homicidal mirrors. If this scenario sounds vaguely familiar, it’s because the South Korean film has been, surprise, surprise, remade by Hollywood. Now titled “Mirrors,” the film retains a few of the basic elements of its predecessor, but is vastly different.
The protagonist of “Mirrors” is Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland), a NYPD officer who has been suspended from the force for shooting someone. Even though his estranged wife Amy Carson (Paula Patton) appears to be a medical examiner (in New York the chief M.E. makes $160,000 a year) and Carson is drawing a pension, he needs to get ANOTHER job so that Amy can take care of their two children Michael and Daisy. High maintenance much? Anyway, during the day down-and-out Ben sleeps on his bartender sister’s (Amy Smart) couch, and at night heads over to a burnt out shell of a department store, where every few hours he makes the rounds; flashlight in hand.
According to his superior, the site was once the most opulent department store in New York City but a crazy employee set it on fire, subsequently rendering it unusable and killing a considerable number of customers/employees. His rationale? He was getting revenge on the mirrors for killing his wife and children. Despite the guy’s best efforts, the mirrors continue their killing spree, and now it’s up to Ben to stop them. Re-reading over the synopsis for “Mirrors,” I realize how positively stupid this film sounds. But let me come to its defense. Sort of.
Directed by French horrormeister Alexandre Aja and co-scripted by him and his long-time writing partner Gregory Levasseur, “Mirrors” has a lot going for it. At least during the first half of the film. The setting is perfection. The cavernous department store – with its Corinthian columns, ceiling to floor mirrors, and Greek statuary – definitely conveys a sense of opulence, bordering on decadence. Every floor contains several unblinking mannequins that stand around in various states of disintegration, all of them covered in black soot. As Ben searches the empty building, the human figures cast eerie shadows. Couple this imagery with the sound effects, and you become pretty unsettled. Compare this with the South Korean version, which is set in a modern, sanitary high rise, and you begin to think that maybe “Mirrors” will improve on its original.
Thanks to Sutherland’s presence, the acting in “Mirrors” is top notch. Over the last 20 years, he has really improved as an actor, and when the script calls for him to confront his psychological demons, he’s believable. (His character is a recovering alcoholic, his marriage is breaking down, and he is taking some “serious” prescription drugs, so essentially he’s a wreck.) Patton was obviously cast for her looks and how she looks in a tight blouse, but she’s not entirely objectionable. She does, however, play her domestic scenes a bit over the top, making the film, at times, feel overly melodramatic. Smart has a very small role, which consists of a few quick exchanges with Sutherland, and then a heinous bubble bath death, during which she rips off her own lower jaw.
This leads us into the film’s gore factor. As you can see, it has its moments where you will squirm in your seat. The opening scene, during which a security guard offs himself, is particularly off-putting, but it doesn’t compare to Smart’s demise. Yikes. Not that you would expect much less from Aja. In case you don’t recognize his name, he made his presence known stateside with his psychological slasher film “High Tension,” then dazzled us again with his remake of “Hills Have Eyes.” Both films left me momentarily traumatized, so I expected more gore in “Mirrors.” Instead, it’s gore lite.
The real problem with “Mirrors” isn’t apparent until near the end, when Ben solves the “mystery” of the mirrors. “Into the Mirror” gave us a psychological, supernatural explanation that, within an Asian framework, worked well enough for me. “Mirrors” also uses psychology and the supernatural to explain itself, but rather than staying a freaky “ghost story,” it becomes a quasi-“Exorcist” flick with a ridiculous fight sequence that left me shaking my head and muttering “why, why?” For some reason, Hollywood cannot embrace subtlety or ambiguity; therefore, we end up with “boss” battles and pyrotechnics. It’s a shame, because “Mirrors” was shaping up to be a pretty decent flick. To Aja’s credit, the final scene is identical to the Korean film. It will either leave you impressed or confused.
I said I would come to the film’s defense, so here it goes: As far as horror remakes go, “Mirrors” has its fair share of flaws, but it is one of the better ones. It boasts better than average acting, some recommendable gore, and a few decent jumps. Aja still has me interested, which means I’ll be waiting for his next project – another bloody remake – “Piranha 3-D.” I can only imagine what he has in store.
Alexandre Aja (director) / Alexandre Aja, Grégory Levasseur (screenplay), Sung-ho Kim (Korean motion picture “Into the Mirror”)
CAST: Kiefer Sutherland … Ben Carson
Paula Patton … Amy Carson
Cameron Boyce … Michael Carson
Erica Gluck … Daisy Carson
Amy Smart … Angela Carson
Mary Beth Peil … Anna Esseker
John Shrapnel … Lorenzo Sapelli