Mirrors are terrifying. They’re glimpses into a half-fake opposite world of doppelgängers and mimicry. Partly because of this, they’ve been a staple of horror films for forever, either as ways for killers to be seen, or things for monsters to come out of. Mirrors is one more film in the grand tradition of reflection-based horror.
Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) is a burnt-out ex-cop who works as a security guard in a burnt-out department store. The ruined store is filled with mirrors – mirrors that were kept perfectly clean by the last guard, who disappeared mysteriously. Mirrors that act strangely, as though something inside wants to come out.
The characters are all rather standard; the main character has a traumatic past, a beautiful estranged wife, a drinking problem and anger issues. He’s pretty standard for an ex-cop protagonist. His family are pleasant and wholesome, there to show a softer side and demonstrate that things are getting worse. The acting is competent, and everyone fulfills their allotted role.
The plot exposition is a little clumsy – people ask awkward questions or state things that all the characters already know. I don’t mind that so much – it’s often a necessary evil. There could be less of it, though, if the film had a simpler plot. Mirrors crams in too much, obscuring the central concept. You’ve got reflection monsters, but also exorcisms, haunted houses, medical experiments, and almost any other element you care to name. It would be a stronger film if it had focused on one idea alone.
Mirrors is, as the name and concept would suggest, a very mirror-focused film. Everything happens near or through mirrors, and the direct clearly loves playing with the audience expectations of what is real and what is a reflection. If you want lots of narrative ambiguity and slow changes of focus, this is the film for you.
My favourite thing about this film is that it has a thoughtful protagonist. Faced with the supernatural, he doesn’t panic (much); instead, he actually uses his brain. The traumatised guard starts using the reflections intelligently, learning about the monster as it stalks him. It’s always nice to watch an intelligent protagonist, and it makes the stakes that much higher; it’s hard to care about the death of a character who somewhat brings it upon themselves.
My biggest issue with Mirrors is that the rules seem to change throughout the film – at first, the monster is very limited to mirrors at the start, but ends up appearing in all sorts of reflections and demonstrating a range of new abilities. I don’t mind an escalating threat, but it should be a consistent one – if the monster is capable of doing something, then it should do so when appropriate. When the monster suddenly develops a new, off-theme ability at the climax of the film, suspension of disbelief becomes harder to sustain.
In all, Mirrors has a lot of interesting ideas, but doesn’t always use them well. There are short sections – including the very end, normally a weak point for horror – in which the film is focused and even clever, but the whole film is weakened by the amount of stuff crammed into and the formulaic elements. It’s a film that wants to break genre norms and be challenging, but it takes the easy path too often.