Mirrors (2008)

Starring: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Peil, Jason Flemyng

Directed by: Alexandre Aja

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Kiefer Sutherland in Alexandre Aja's Mirrors

Nothing is more scary in a horror movie than the bathroom mirror. Whether it's acting as a gateway to another world, a dark glass portal through which demonic forces reach and grab us by the throat, or reflecting the evil shadow of our true identities, that innocent-looking, flat, smooth surface is a mysterious conduit for our most sinister, secret desires.

So all power to horror's new enfant terrible, Alexandre Aja (Switchblade Romance and that rather neat cover version of The Hills Have Eyes) for harnessing the terrifying power of the mirror to reflect our deepest fears and darkest wishes. And if, well, his film isn't actually all that scary, it's still a bloody, suppurating cut above the usual mindless multiplex horror teen fodder.

Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is an ex-cop, ex-alcoholic  ex-husband who sleeps on his sister's sofa by day and works as a security guard by night, patrolling a deserted, burnt out New York department store so determinedly creepy it makes the Black Bramford look like Burger King. Haunted by nighmares of the the shooting that led to his dismissal from the force and necking strong drugs to keep himself off the booze, at first Ben isn't sure whether his mind is playing tricks on him when he starts seeing strange things in the huge, shiny mirrors that splinter the dark, echoing halls of the store with shards of light.

For the mirrors seem to reflect an alternate reality – and not a pleasant one at that – and worse, they're able to make people do things they really don't want to do...

Don't we all have mornings like that? Kiefer Sutherland in Mirrors

Soon Ben's entire family are under threat from the bathroom cabinet, unless he can feed the mirrors what they want, and in attempting to appease them, he discovers a chilling truth about the building (which – hooray! – used to be a psychiatric hospital, before all the patients slaughtered each other over night – well, it was either that or built on an Indian graveyard).

Because yes – hooray again! – this is a horror film that actually has a proper plot, that extends its chills beyond ninety minutes of pointless jumps and starts. Like the Japanese classic Ringu, alongside the shocking gory set pieces, there are mysteries to be solved and dark secrets to be discovered, and several twists (of sorts) to keep us guessing along the way, even if, after a visually poetic climax, it does all get a bit Nanageddon...

True, Mirrors doesn't have much that's new to add to the self-reflexive genre that is horror, dealing as it does in the usual looking glass themes of split personalities, evil doubles and alternate realities, and if you've seen the trailer, you've seen all the really creepy bits (never trust a small child in a horror film) but there are still plenty of tasty ghoulish morsels to intrigue and satisfy, and maybe even make you think a bit.

In my ten thousand word MA dissertation on the subject of scary mirrors (seriously), I argued that the horror genre is itself like a magical looking glass, framing our fears and phobias in a safe space before throwing them right back at us, warped through the dark refractive glass of imagination so that communists become aliens, rabid consumers zombies and hormonal teenagers demon children. What, then, does Mirrors say about 2008? That we fear the unknown, the inexplicable, the supernatural? Sure, but perhaps more pertinently in this self-obsessed, navel-gazing era, that we fear our own potential for madness and self-destruction? Possibly.

Just be careful when you're staring into those glassy depths trying to decide, cuz you can never be too sure what you might finding staring back…

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