Defying logic while continuously flirting with it, Pablo Proenza’s debut feature about a haunted house — or a woman’s madness, or both — sustains suspense throughout, thanks in part to a tour-de-force perf of Lisa Vidal as the eye of the spectral storm. Sticking close to the subjective experience of his heroine, Proenza convincingly adds another turn of the screw to the equation of female hysteria and supernaturally possessed lodgings. Good-looking pic could scare up limited release before moving to DVD and cable.
Proenza would have done better to borrow his title from Ingmar Bergman’s canon rather than Robert Siodmak’s, since “Dark Mirror” has less to do with an actual evil twin (though the film boasts an alternate universe that contains a doppelganger) than with distorted perception, a la Bergman’s ‘Through a Glass Darkly.”
Deborah (Vidal), along with her hubby (David Chisum) and little boy (Joshua Pelegrin), moves into a house with a mysterious history, equipped with distinctively beveled glass panels and mirrors that reflect to infinity. In the process of resurrecting her career as a photographer, Deborah soon discovers, to her horror, that everyone she photographs dies — or perhaps everyone she sees through glass dies. On the other hand, her mother and best friend, who visit regularly, may already be dead.
In the tradition of femme-centered spooky films from “The Uninvited” to “Repulsion” to “The Others” and recent J-horror, Proenza captures the link between incipient madness and the attempt to impose meaning on random events. He also draws the viewer into an attempt to decipher the conflicting signs surrounding Deborah. Previous tenants of the house, a fairly well-known artist and his wife and children, have left behind a painting of a recumbent woman and a diary full of diagrams and cryptic notations, all of which fascinate Deborah and trigger the final cataclysm.
“Dark” brings nothing particularly new or revelatory to the horror film, but manages to pull off a more than competent spin on the genre, belying its modest budget. Thesping is uniformly excellent: As Deborah’s husband, Chisum comes off as both completely supportive and potentially manipulative, and as their son, Pelegrin plays the innocent stake in a gruesome game.
Shot with extreme clarity by Armando Salas in Super 16, the pic validates the atmospheric vibe between the house as a womb-space of hidden rooms and the mysterious depths of the feminine mind.