Emma Thompson

Softcore horror at best, failed allegory at worst, “Mirrors” reflects little beyond Splat Pack auteur Alexandre Aja’s desire to push his genre into less punishing and more profitable territory.

Softcore horror at best, failed allegory at worst, “Mirrors” reflects little beyond Splat Pack auteur Alexandre Aja’s desire to push his genre into less punishing and more profitable territory. Ponderously paranormal film, which Fox withheld from critics for good reason, suggests a violent variant of the studio’s megahit “Night at the Museum”: Protag is a downwardly mobile nightwatchman whose estranged family initially doubts that his workplace-slash-funhouse comes alive after dark. The pic, starring Kiefer Sutherland, acting unusually subdued, scared up an estimated $11.1 million in its first weekend, good for No. 4 at the B.O.

Pic’s official source is the little-known South Korean thriller “Into the Mirror,” making this the French-born Aja’s second remake of three — following “The Hills Have Eyes” and preceding “Piranha 3-D,” now in production at Dimension for release next summer.

Unconvincingly set in New York City, Romania-lensed “Mirrors” casts Bucharest’s unfinished Academy of Sciences building as a former department store patrolled by Ben Carson (Sutherland), a recovering alcoholic recently suspended from the NYPD. Previous nightwatchman had been compelled by supernatural mirrors to slit his own throat, as revealed in an unpromising first scene.

Far too many early shots feature Ben proceeding cautiously through the pitch-black corridors of the gargantuan building, which had been engulfed in flames five years before. Occasionally hotheaded hero imagines being ablaze himself, in the first of many episodes that suggest the place may be haunted.

Still, pic’s scares conveniently (and rather inexplicably) extend beyond the central location to the well-appointed home of Ben’s medical examiner wife Amy (Paula Patton) and two kids (Erica Gluck, Cameron Boyce), the youngest of whom also suffers nightmarish visions. Likewise possessed by murderous energy is the cramped Queens apartment Ben shares with his bartending younger sister, Angela (Amy Smart).

Aja, who co-wrote the screenplay with Gregory Levasseur, strains to lend the horror a psychological dimension, as when Ben frantically strips his wife’s house of its mirrors. But the film’s only frisson derives from a handful of cheap cattle-prod-style shocks (most revealed in mirror reflection, natch), while the dialogue is hamstrung by the likes of Ben’s ridiculously rhetorical question, “What if the mirrors are reflecting something that’s beyond our reality?”

If Aja, son of French director Alexandre Arcady (“Mariage Mixte”) and film reviewer Marie-Jo Jouan, intends to offer a self-reflexive critique of cinema in “Mirrors,” the results are nowhere near the screen. Indeed, the movie bears myriad evidence of a rushed production, Aja’s biggest so far.

Sutherland, one of three exec producers, draws on his harried-investigator persona from TV’s “24” but fails to leave an impression, while the other actors seem to have lacked direction. In a particularly thankless role, the talented Mary Beth Peil appears as an elderly survivor of a former psychiatric ward.

Along with Rob Zombie (“The Devil’s Rejects”), Aja remains the most visually gifted of the Splat Packers, although “Mirrors” sports little of the disturbingly arty carnage that distinguished both the “Hills” remake and his strongest, most unsettling work, the French “Haute tension.”

Though “Mirrors” reunites the filmmaker with several previous collaborators, including the curiously named editor Baxter, the film is softer-edged in every respect. Which isn’t to say that Aja has completely shied from the unpleasant spectacle of children in peril, as evidenced by a scene involving the hero’s preteen daughter and a pair of scissors.

Mirrors

Production

A 20th Century Fox release, presented with Regency Enterprises, of a New Regency production. Produced by Alexandra Milchan, Marc Sternberg, Gregory Levasseur. Executive producers, Marc S. Fischer, Kiefer Sutherland, Andrew Hong. Co-producer, Eun Young Kim. Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay, Aja, Gregory Levasseur, based on the motion picture "Into the Mirror," written by Kim Sung Ho.

Crew

Camera (Deluxe color, Arri widescreen), Maxime Alexandre; editor, Baxter; music, Javier Navarrete; production designer, Joseph Nemec III; supervising art director, M.M. Stone; art director, Steve Bream; set decorators, Liz Griffiths, Ian Whittaker; costume designers, Ellen Mirojnick, Michael Dennison; sound (Dolby Digital), Albert Bailey; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Mark Larry; re-recording mixer, Alex Gruzdev; visual effects supervisors, David Fogg, Jamison Scott Goei; special visual effects and digital animation, Rez-Illusion; digital visual effects, Look Effects; visual effects, Autrechose & Co., New York; special effects makeup, Gregory Nicotero, Howard Berger; stunt coordinator, Cedric Proust; assistant director, Nick Heckstall-Smith; second unit director, Gregory Levasseur; casting, Deborah Aquila, Tricia Wood, Jennifer Smith. Reviewed at AMC Arbor Lakes 16, Maple Grove, Minn., Aug. 15, 2008. MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 111 MIN.

With

Ben Carson - Kiefer Sutherland Amy Carson - Paula Patton Angela Carson - Amy Smart Anna Esseker - Mary Beth Peil Michael Carson - Cameron Boyce Daisy Carson - Erica Gluck Robert Esseker - Julian Glover Lorenzo Sapelli - John Shrapnel
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