The Movie Masochist

Produce your own Asian horror film remake

by James Franklin

McClatchy-Tribune News Service (MCT)

21 August 2008


Rated R. One and a half stars. Extra lousy.

Years ago Sears & Roebuck sold mail-order kits for houses—they sent you the parts, you put them together and voila, you had a home. Something like that clearly exists for American remakes of Asian horror films because they all look the same, sound the same and disappoint the same.

If one were to randomly cut scenes from several of these movies together and show them to an audience, it might take them a while to figure out something was amiss. It might take them even longer to care.

“Mirrors” is yet another remake of an Asian horror film that’s content to merely serve up blood and blasts of screaming noise. Horror movies work on human beings’ fear of death, but “Mirrors” is more likely to make them afraid of Dolby surround sound.

The reliance on sound over suspense is one of the worst stylistic traits these movies share. It goes like this: after a moment of quiet the ghost—it’s almost always a ghost—jumps toward the camera from out of frame, accompanied by a sound that’s a blend of human scream and amplified electronic hiss. As a scare tactic it’s reliable and utterly mechanical.

These movies also have the same cold, bluish cinematography that’s a requirement for horror films these days. And they manage to incorporate a similar setting, the abandoned building (often a hospital) that’s filled with leaking pipes, grimy tile work and walls that have the same color as dirty old bandages.

It’s a standardized package. The producers who buy the Asian horror remake kit receive: 1) The shrieking sound effect to accompany all cheap scares, 2) Correct filters and film stock to achieve that deathly blue look, 3) Instructions on how to make any interior look like a gas station restroom after a four-alarm fire, and 4) a storyline (optional).

“Mirrors” has all these qualities, so much so that its few genuinely creepy moments get lost in the rote commotion.

Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland, who’s really above this kind of junk) is a cop who’s been suspended for nearly a year after he fatally shot an undercover officer. Because living in New York isn’t cheap, he has to take a job as a night watchman at an empty department store, the interior of which is a charred wreck thanks to a massive fire some years ago that killed dozens of people. As if that wasn’t enough to make the place creepy, Ben is told the place originally served as a mental hospital. It wouldn’t be surprising if one of the characters mentioned the hospital was built on an Indian burial ground, given all this expository overkill.

While patrolling the building late at night Ben sees weird things in the store’s mirrors, which remained curiously unscathed despite the fire. Pretty soon he’s seeing dead people, none of whom seem happy. He finds the previous night watchman’s wallet, inside of which is a slip of paper with the name “Esseker” scrawled on it. Despite the horrific visions, Ben decides to keep the job even though New York offers plenty of employment opportunities, even in a dismal economy. He could have saved himself a lot of grief by becoming an office temp, a job that also offers better hours.

When someone close to Ben dies in a gratuitously bloody, nasty way, Ben goes into manic overdrive. He tries to find the previous night watchman and discovers his predecessor—depicted in the movie’s prologue—killed himself with a shard of mirror glass in a fit of gory overacting. Worse, the fire that gutted the building was started by another guy who killed his family and claimed the mirrors made him do it.

Ben’s estranged wife kicked him out of the house because of his drunken rages, and now keeps him away from the kids because of his sober rages. But poor old Ben is losing it because he gradually understands whatever lives in the mirrors is coming after his family, so he gets more frantic and sweaty. Sutherland shows some considerable acting skill by making a guy who was already losing it seem to be losing it even more, or at least faster and louder.

He traces the name “Esseker” to an old nun who had been possessed by the mirror entity as a girl. With the nun’s help, he stops the thing from killing his wife and kids and somehow sets up a twist ending that feels both original and completely illogical, or at least illogical in a movie about demons that live in mirrors and kill people.

If you somehow regret missing the chance to see “Mirrors,” there’s probably another movie just like it on the way. There’s no hope of closing the Asian horror film trade gap any time soon, but you do have to credit Hollywood studios for trying.


The rating system:

1 star: Lousy
2 stars: Horrible
3 stars: Painful
4 stars: Traumatic


The Movie Masochist is an emotionally wounded cinephile who lives in the United States. He watches bad movies so you don’t have to. Discuss movies, argue with or simply flatter him at [email protected]

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