directed by Alexandre Aja
written by Alexandre Aja and Grgory Levasseur
starring Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Amy Smart, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck
Ben Carson (Sutherland), a former police detective who shot and killed an undercover cop, continues to be tortured by nightmares of the incident. He has separated from his wife Amy (Patton) and is sleeping on his sister Angie’s (Smart) couch as the film opens. He takes a job as night watchman at the site of a department store called the Mayflower that was set afire years ago. He learns that prior to that it used to be a psychiatric hospital until many people were suddenly killed. His first night on the job he sees some strange things that he cannot easily explain away. He gradually comes to the conclusion that there is something sinister behind the mirrors and he panics, covering all the mirrors in his home and painting over those he cannot take out. His wife thinks he’s completely mad but she eventually comes around when she has a similar experience.
The film takes a simple story and tries repeatedly to make it complicated with a barrage of special effects that prove to get in the way of the actual story. The idea is open to so many possibilities and this film took the easiest way out: bombard the audience with gore and crazy angles and explosions and they won’t notice what little story there is to go on. Instead we are given an attempted horror film with thriller trappings. It doesn’t seem to make much effort to truly terrify and satisfies itself shocking the audience with the occasional jolt. This film employs the false shock on numerous occasions and the effect grows tiresome after a short while. Indeed, by the end it doesn’t matter if Ben’s family is safe or not because the script doesn’t allow us to invest any time in them. They are ciphers without discernible personalities and are weakly written so their lives have no resonance. Even Ben is simply a mess of nerves and confusions that turn him into a woman’s blouse on occasion.
This could have been a much creepier, more effective film if it had refrained from revealing so much of the horror so soon. After a short while, the shocks employed wear thin and the end result is a film that loses its ability to truly impact the viewer in a discernible way. The ideas present could have led to a satisfactory viewing experience but the film relies on too much bombast and the mind simply checks out at that point. Ben’s heroic struggle to get to the bottom of the events that plague him proves to have no value and all that is left is a skeleton of a film that could easily have been made had the creators backed off and let the story unfold organically.
Still, the department store and hospital are both imbued with a difficult energy that permeates the film. Unfortunately, their aesthetic qualities are merely exploited as the film chooses to unleash a litany of terrors that cannot sustain the initial joy of experiencing the strange contours of the structures. There are moments scattered throughout the film that suggest what might have been and they are genuinely arresting and do manage to elicit something more than mere shock. The film occasionally slows down and develops more of a mysterious aspect that actually allows the viewer to engage in the material and feel something for the characters. However, they are quickly sabotaged by scenes where whatever is behind the mirror acts up in a most volatile and violent way.
Demonic possession is played with and employed to “explain” the phenomena behind the mirrors. A woman named Anna Esseker was possessed as a child and when she was home strange things began to happen with the mirrors. She was treated at the psych hospital by a doctor assuming she was schizophrenic shut her into a room of mirrors forcing her to observe herself from every possible angle. The demon inside her jumped into the mirrors and she was instantly cured. She was later sent to a nunnery where Ben finally tracks her down and kidnaps her at gunpoint as she is the only person capable of stopping the demons from harassing his family. The scenes depicting the girl’s torment are fast paced jump cuts and they manage to convey her torment rather effectively. However, they are used too frequently and do nothing to add to the textures of the film. Still, they are kinetic and prove necessary to offer an explanation as to why all the chaos is swarming.
For fans of gore there are a few moments where the camera doesn’t cut away and the results are rather flamboyantly displayed. They don’t serve the narrative and manage to get in the way of the basic story but they serve the film’s purpose of providing a continuous barrage of shocks without any intrinsic meaning.
The performances in this film are adequate and do not take away from the story. Kiefer Sutherland does a fair job conveying a man being driven near mad by a blustering array of psychic torments. He does seem a bit wooden at times and occasionally seems a bit lost in the narrative. All told, however, he carries the film and manages to do so without succumbing to histrionics or overacting. Paula Patton is not particularly present but this is most likely the fault of the script. She manages to offer no significant emotional response that might allow the viewer to understand her character with a bit more clarity. Amy Smart suffers through material that does nothing to provide her character with any depth to speak of. Angie lacks even the most rudimentary character development and lacks any significant presence in the film. The same can be said of all the actors including Sutherland. The terrors take center stage and they quickly crash and burn leaving nothing to grasp hold of.
Overall, this is a mediocre thriller that occasionally morphs into a cheap horror film that does not resonate and means little in the end. The characters are poorly developed and there is no suspense. The visuals lose their luster after a short while leaving a poorly constructed story that takes too many leaps that add up to an empty film with no personality. There are terrible moments but they are not set up with any care or precision and this shadow of a potentially decent film leads nowhere worth investigating.