Saturday, Aug. 16, 2008

Mirrors

By David Luhrssen
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Asia has become fertile ground for horror films. A steady parade of such movies from the Far East have been poached by Hollywood, gutted of their subtlety in clumsy adaptations and pushed into multiplexes, mostly to little acclaim.

Remade from a recent South Korean film, Mirrors is the latest among the mediocre-bad attempts to transpose an Asian supernatural sensibility into an American popcorn flick. Kiefer Sutherland stars as Ben, a troubled ex-NYPD detective relieved of duty following a fatal shooting. Popping prescription medication to fight his alcoholic urges, Ben is separated from his wife, whom he still loves, and their children, whom he canít live without. Heís been reduced to night watchman duty at the Mayflower, an abandoned department store in the heart of Manhattan. The building, specifically its many mirrors, is apparently haunted and the specters follow Ben out the door, stalking him and his family.

The Mayflower, a charred Greek revival edifice whose Art Deco interior includes many gloweringly oversized mythological motifs, is a suitably creepy setting. Fire blackened mannequins remain in place, the electricity isnít working and the mirrored rooms threaten to turn the once grand store into an evil fun house. But the setting alone canít compensate for a patchy plot. Mirrors is poorly structured; too much happens too soon and too many scary moments rely on foreboding music, unsettling bass range sounds and gratuitous gore for their fear factor. At times the storyís internal logic seems askew. Sutherlandís performance as Ben, an angry man who might be verging on unhinged even if he wasnít seeing dead people in the mirror, is a little lackadaisical.

Whatís best about Mirrors is the core idea, borrowed from the Koreans but universally understood. Who especially in childhood hasnít wondered whatís behind the looking glass or what might be looking at us from the other side? Who hasnít stolen a quick sideways glance at one, just checking if everything reflected there is as it should be? Most of us avoid breaking the darn things, and not just for fear of shattered glass. Mirrors delivers a few shivers among its many clichťd moments when it keys into the primal fear that looking glasses are spooky, potentially the portals to a forbidding elsewhere, or surfaces whose reflections can become detached from our own reality.

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