Dir: Alexandre Aja. US. 2008. 111mins.

Mirrors tries to blend conventional horror with dark, allegorical thriller in this film about a washed-up policeman targeted by evil mirrors but pulls off neither very effectively. French film-maker Alexandre Aja, quickly becoming the go-to director for down-and-dirty horror remakes, hits all the keys hard but there's not the tune of a smooth, unified vision here, just the jangly, discordant tones of set-piece mayhem occasionally run through an amplifier.

Not screened in advance by distributor 20th Century Fox, Mirrors opened on August 15 with $11.1 million, beating Fox's Shutter which was similarly held from critics and bowed to $10.4 million earlier this spring. The familiar face of Kiefer Sutherland, the film's family theme and relatively restrained gore will help separate it internationally from the pack of teen-centric horror films. The film should also be a tidy earner on DVD, wooing both genre aficionados and fans of Sutherland's small screen hit 24.

Ex-alcoholic and NYPD vet Ben Carson (Sutherland) is still recovering from a shooting that's left him a shell of his former self. Living with his sister Angela (Smart) until he can get back on the force and back with his wife Amy (Patton) and their two kids, Ben takes a job as a nightwatchman at the Mayflower, a sprawling, burned-out department store awaiting demolition.

Almost immediately, he begins seeing grotesque reflections and experiencing intense hallucinations. When tragedy strikes, Ben becomes convinced that mirrors everywhere, not just in the Mayflower, bring evil so in an effort to protect his family he decides to investigate. A package sent by the previous nightwatchman gives him a clue in the form of a surname, Esseker.

Aja and his writing partner Gregory Levasseur, who also produced and directed second unit, knows how to bring multiple influences to bear on a scene. While there are some desultory jump-scares, Aja also has a keen sense of how to manipulate sound effectively. Mirrors' baroquely ornate setting (with Romania substituting for New York) also offers the opportunity for some dusty, moody production design, though conversely some of the movie's exteriors suffer in this regard.

Cutting down the grim sadism that marked The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension leaves Aja with less arrows in his quiver, though. Here, Aja gets tripped up with a complicated narrative at cross purposes with his strengths as a film-maker. The script's tangled back story doesn't reflect much thought about the particulars of why the evil chooses to target certain people.

While the screenplay's investigatory plot strand is a jumble of expository clues, attempts to layer in an element of spirituality only further muddy the waters, leading to a climax that is stylistically out of step with the rest of the movie, and a gimmicky ending that means absolutely nothing except the chance for Aja to marry some dizzying orchestral music to a sweeping crane shot.

Perfectly cast Sutherland's performance is heavy, weighted and intense, seemingly designed to match the movie's heightened visualization and tone. Gore hounds will delight, meanwhile, at one character's gruesome fate - as much for its bathtub setting as the imagination with which they are dispatched.

Production companies
Regency Enterprises (US)
US distribution

20th Century Fox

Gregory Levasseur
Alexandra Milchan
Marc Sternberg

Executive producers
Marc S Fischer
Andrew Hong
Kiefer Sutherland
Arnon Milchan

Screen play
Alexandre Aja
Gregory Levasseur
Based on the South Korean film Into The Mirror

Maxime Alexandre

Production design
Joseph Nemec III

Javier Navarette


Main cast
Kiefer Sutherland
Paula Patton
Amy Smart
Mary Beth Peil
Cameron Boyce
Erica Gluck
Jason Flemyng
John Shrapnel