Cultural infamy: So you're Kiefer Sutherland. (No, seriously, you are. Get into character. Start sneering.) You've had a pretty successful career by just about any measure: You landed respectable movies practically from the get-go, including Stand By Me and The Lost Boys. You made appearances in Hollywood blockbusters (A Few Good Men) and dark indies (the underappreciated Freeway). You even caught the directing bug, though with limited success. And then 24 came along, and while Judd Nelson is (possibly) smoking pole for pocket change in the subway, you're on top of the fucking world. You're one of the highest-paid actors in television, making somewhere around $13 million a year. You're an exec-producer on the show, which is clearly a labor of love.
This is all leading up to this question, Kiefer: When choosing what to do with your surely limited free time, what makes you pick up a script about "a disgraced former cop… guarding the ruins of a once-famous department store"? (That copy is straight from the DVD box, Kiefer.) Surely you have a million scripts crossing your desk every day, and you don't need the money. Why not pick something to stretch your acting chops, something "dangerously" indie? Better yet, why not just go on a fucking vacation?
Okay, I'm getting ahead of myself, because I haven't even watched Mirrors yet. I'm just wondering aloud. (Okay, you aren't Kiefer anymore, you're an A.V. Club reader.) And I'm not trying to make any value judgments, either: From the first time I saw the trailer for Mirrors, I knew that I would watch it on purpose. I think the film studio is actually aiming these types of movies at viewers like me, who know it won't be good, but will watch anyway. I also think they're listening in on my phone calls, and maybe living in my mirror.
Anyway, Mirrors doesn't have much cultural infamy to speak of, other than the fact that nobody seemed to like it much. The highest praise anyone could muster was TV Guide's appraisal that it's an improvement over the Korean movie it's sort-of based on, Into The Mirror. Our own Scott Tobias gave Mirrors a lowly D+, saying "the film looks to do for reflective surfaces what Amityville 4 did for killer lamps." (This is a very bad thing, because Amityville 4 isn't scary, it's funny. But not on purpose.) Worse yet, even horror fans didn't seem to like Mirrors. It has a 5.6 user rating on Metacritic. But… on the way to lunch today, Scott told me it's perhaps actually worth watching for its failures.
Curiosity factor: Mirrors is a horror movie with relatively high production values, so ding-ding-ding, we've got a winner already. Also, will it turn out that 100 minutes of Kiefer Sutherland beating the shit out of mirrors is lots of fun? There's a damn good possibility, don't you think?
The viewing experience: The previews—always a good barometer of quality—include Max Payne (a future I Watched This On Purpose for sure) and Valkyrie. Given the choice in the menu, I chose the Unrated rather than the Theatrical Version, because I want to see what the director wanted me to see, dammit. And because the box tells me that it is a "SHOCKING UNRATED CUT TOO TERRIFYING FOR THEATERS." You know a movie is scary when even the theater shits itself.
I should probably mention that this is my first experience with Blu-ray, and it looks pretty good, but it's nowhere near the visual messiah that Kyle has been promising.
Anyway, the movie: Right off the bat, it looks pretty great and acts pretty stupid. (Insert a joke about a girl here.) I start formulating theories about where this movie will take me: Will it all take place in Kiefer's mind? Will the mirror be an analogy for an examination of our own souls? As we go through this journey together, I will share my theories, but I'll tell you right now: They were all dead wrong, because this movie is way dumber than I am.
So we start with a security guard who supposedly offed himself while looking into a mirror, but that isn't what really happened: The image in the mirror picks up a shard of glass and cuts its own throat, while the real-world counterpart merely gets the effects of said slashing. It's pretty gross and gory, but not terribly over the top. That comes later.
(Oh, check the credits: Kiefer is a producer on this movie! That explains something, I guess.)
So Kiefer, once again playing the part of Jack Bauer—right down to the hoodie-under-jacket ensemble and alternating between a bark and a whisper—is a disgraced former cop (yep, you read that on the box) who shot his partner or something, but that isn't important right now. What's important is that he's estranged from his beautiful, cleavage-intensive wife and their adorable, freckle-flecked children, and he's living on his hot sister's couch while looking for work and hoping to be reinstated by the NYPD.† He takes a job as a night watchman in a beautiful old department store smack dab in the middle of Manhattan, which has been closed since a fire destroyed it five years before. It's stuck in some sort of insurance limbo, according to the guard who trains Kiefer. The old guard, who apparently doesn't have any problems with mirrors attacking him, warns Keef immediately that things are a bit creepy.
So it's time for Kiefer to do his first rounds, and time for my first THEORY: Ghosts from the fire that destroyed the building are angry, and they're looking for revenge on whoever set the fire. Or maybe it's Old Man Clemens just pretending to haunt the place so that he can buy this sweet NYC property on the cheap. (Oh wait, that's Scooby-Doo.) So Kiefer, of course, gets a taste of the freakshow on his first night. Handprints show up on the mirrors, doors open and close—your standard horror-movie scares. He says "Holy shit," because Jack Bauer can totally swear on this channel.
Now at this point I'm reminded of Eddie Murphy's routine about The Amityville Horror, in which he establishes that black people don't get into these types of situations, because they intelligently get the fuck out. (Yes, Eddie basically stole this bit from Richard Pryor.)
But no, Jack Bauer has to solve some shit. Here he is with an amazing monologue straight outta Shakespeare. It's also his first glimpse of what the mirror might hold for him.
But against Amy Smart's smart advice, he returns to work. Day two isn't as easy as day one: Instead of just seeing ghostly handprints, he sees a bunch of people on fire—really, really bad digital fire. Then he himself catches on really bad digital fire. But for some reason—specifically, that the movie needs to continue—the fake fire doesn't kill him. In this clip, you'll hear Kiefer yell what's clearly supposed to be "Help!" but in fact comes out as "Hailp!" It's pretty awesome acting.
THEORY: It has been established that Kiefer's character is a recovering alcoholic. Is this movie about his personal demons?
Key line of dialogue from Kiefer: "Fuck this place."
But wait! A clearly branded UPS box shows up, delivered by an extremely polite UPS driver. It's from the dead security guard Kiefer replaced, even though the two never met! THEORY: Jack Bauer will discover that it was arson, and get clues from dead people through the mirrors to help him solve the crime and let their souls rest. (Theory immediately disproved, since one of the clippings in the box is about the guy who confessed to the crime.)
Somehow, this leads Kiefer to some amazing fucking leaps of logic that turn out to be true: "What if the mirrors are showing us something that's not really happening? What if the mirrors can make us do things we don't want to do?" A little aside here: I watched Adaptation recently, and the subplot in which Charlie Kaufman's twin brother writes a horrible Hollywood screenplay is hilariously dead-on. The screenplay for Mirrors is about half a step above Kaufman's ridiculous The 3, about a serial killer, a cop, and a victim—who are all the same person.
Okay, so somehow Kiefer brought the curse home with him to naked Amy Smart. And naked Amy Smart is totally going to take a bath. But mirror-naked Amy Smart has other plans for this bath-taking party, and not sexy plans. Evil Amy is going to rip her own face open, which means that Good Amy is going to have her face ripped open and her tongue's gonna hang out and be all B-movie gory. There's no chance she's gonna survive this.
THEORY: Jack Bauer is truly crazy, and all this stuff is happening in his head. I mean, he automatically knows exactly what's going on, and he isn't even very surprised when his sister is in a pile of her own blood and bone in the bathtub. Duh, it's the haunted department-store mirror, not the alcoholic ex-cop with a propensity for yelling at his estranged wife and then making out with her!
Eventually, he tries simply asking the mirror what it wants. (Yes, he goes back to work.) Now would a mirror answer him? Sure enough, it scratches out a name: Esseker. THEORY: Esseker will spell out something backwards, à la The Shining, but trickier. (Theory proved false almost immediately.)
So it's research time. (Boooo-ring.) Kiefer learns some shit about the guy who burned down the store, including that the guy (named Berry) was told by the mirrors to find Esseker! At some point in here, Jack discovers that the basement of the department store has a sign pointing to… wait for it… an old asylum! (No, this isn't another Scooby-Doo joke.) THEORY: He is actually locked in this asylum and is dreaming this whole fantasia up. (Theory proved false fairly quickly.)
Anyway, he kicks through a fucking brick wall (!) to find some sort of space-age chamber—clearly this is where the evil doctors experimented on poor mental patients back in the day. Guess what the chamber is filled with? That's right, some motherfucking badass mirrors. And now regular Kiefer has to deal with a whole bunch of reflected Kiefers, all ready to do damage to him, because really they're made of alcohol. Or are they? (They aren't. And they don't hurt him, strangely.)
It turns out that, 50 years ago, the mental institution was the scene of a horrible massacre, which somehow nobody really knew about. All the patients—including a 12-year-old girl named Anna Esseker—were slaughtered. Get this: They killed each other. (How did the last one die, then? Hurt feelings?) But guess what? Anna Esseker isn't dead, and Kiefer goes out to visit her family's farm, where her kindly old uncle shows him the dungeon they used to keep Anna locked up in. (They haven't redecorated?) When he reveals that he knows Anna is alive and now an old lady (he discovered it in "the files," you see), the uncle quickly tells him where she lives—in a monastery with no mirrors, of course. It takes very little to get the old-nun version of Anna talking, and she spills the whole backstory in one fell swoop.
In the meantime, the demons have invaded Kiefer's wife's house, fucking with her creepy son and practically invisible daughter. Instead of heading home to help them, Kiefer kidnaps the nun and takes her back to the department store, I guess to give her back to the demons that used to possess her? That isn't very nice, but if Jack Bauer understands anything, it's making difficult choices. But she goes along with it, allowing herself to be strapped in the mirror chamber. And then—spoiler alert?—the bitch pretty much just up and explodes.
And then the short bus arrives. I mean, things aren't going great up until this point, but we've got a halfway decent, fairly stupid, marginally entertaining scare-flick going. But when the demons regain control of little Anna, she turns into a B-movie puppet-beast that starts chasing Kiefer through the sewer system. He pulls his gun, of course, because his gun has proved so effective in the movie thus far. The demon-puppet-girl throws him around a bit, and finally he impales her on a steaming pipe (it's blowing hot clichés!) and then takes dead aim and puts a bullet between her demon eyes. (After, of course, taunting her with "C'mon, you bitch!")
Then Kiefer makes a needlessly complicated escape through fire and falling concrete, only to realize that (and this is fairly cool, actually, though undeserved) he's actually dead—and living in a backward mirror world. No word on whether he'll be solving crimes there. I guess this is setting us up for Mirrors 2: The Re-Mirroring.
But here's the real crime: The alternate ending, which the director dismisses as "too mystical," is actually way, way better. It cuts the whole Evil Dead chase scene with the demon girl, and actually draws the plight of Kiefer's family into his final act on our side of the glass. But clearly that ending tested badly or something—not enough stupidity—and it lives only on DVD.
THEORY: You probably don't want to watch this movie. (Theory proved correct.)
How much of the experience wasn't a total waste of time? Tough question; thanks for asking, mirror self. There's a decent scary movie in here somewhere. (Yes, I'm surprised to be saying that.) If you're into gore (which I'm really not), a couple of scenes will serve your needs. If you're into sub X-Files supernatural plots (I'm talking to you, Fringe fans), there are worse things you could do with 100 minutes of your time. But I'm gonna say it was about 40 percent okay. But with the understanding that THEORY: I will never watch it again, for pleasures either real or ironic.