Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2009

Dark Mirror

Reality, Illusion and Madness

By David Luhrssen
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The temptation to push STOP almost overcame me five minutes into Dark Mirror, an indie horror movie out on DVD. The clichés of contemporary scary movies were mounting: the bass heavy music signifying BE SCARED, the opening teaser of mayhem followed by the caption THREE MONTHS EARLIER, the family moving into an old house that the wife-mother is strangely drawn to—the strangeness marked by a vacant, sleepwalker stare as she feels her way around the place while the real estate agent prattles on about the charming features.

Yet, somehow I hesitated and I’m glad for it. Dark Mirror is not a great film, but despite adhering too closely to conventions, it’s a good, modestly budgeted genre picture. Director and co-writer Pablo Proenza’s SFX were limited to mirrors and flashing cameras—elements integral to the story and used well, for the most part. The story is what hooked me, and while it’s true that horror fiction is often better left on the page and in the imagination of each reader, rather than rendered through the medium of film (and the limitations of filmmakers), Dark Mirror has many points of interest. Like much good genre fiction in prose and movies, it addresses ideas usually ignored or handled less viscerally in mainstream literature or cinema.

The protagonist, Deb (“ER’s” Lisa Vidal) is an interesting woman with a dishwater dull husband, a more-or-less stay-at-home mom trying to regain her footing as a professional photographer. Naturally she is fascinated by her new home’s unusual play of light, and the fact that it was once owned by an important modern artist who disappeared, along with his family, without a trace. The light is filtered through geometric panels made in China with an eye to trapping spirits. Is something strange afoot in the old house?

In most but not all scenes, Dark Mirror makes effective use of shadowy figures on vision’s periphery and watching eyes from neighboring homes. The banality of much of the dialog may be the point, exposing the dishonesty of everyday speech. What if a camera could somehow make its owner see beyond the surface, even into the snickering thoughts of men at an agency who’d like to have sex with her but hate her photos? What if art has the power to create or destroy—literally? Dark Mirror wonders, like all of us have, about the power of mirrors to take us into infinity or other worlds—about what is real, optical illusion or madness.

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