Mirrors, Internal Logic, and the Desires of Ghosts

There are two types of horror films currently being produced in Hollywood. The first is the gritty and violent “torture flick,” a sort of pornography that asks viewers to squirm and cover their eyes as it devises increasingly painful and creative methods of maiming, injuring, and killing the on-screen victims. This type of film is best exemplified by The Texas Chainsaw Massacre and the Saw franchise, but includes such other films as The Devil’s Rejects and Hostel and Wolf Creek, movies that (for the most part) offer us about twenty minutes of solid character development, then forgo any further story or character development to instead plunge into gruesome violence.

The other type of horror movie in Hollywood, this one likely nearing the end of its run, is the “Japanese-inspired haunting mystery,” and is best exemplified by movies such as The Ring and Dark Water and The Grudge. These movies are usually intensely dark and dreary, open with a frightening sequence in which some character is killed in a strange and intriguing supernatural way, and then follow a different character as he/she slowly enters into the same horrifying world that consumed that now-dead character with whom the film opened. The movie functions as a mystery, also, with the protagonist besieged by strange events that all ultimately add together as clues and reveal some person wronged, killed, and now “out to get” certain other persons in the aforementioned supernatural way. The movie usually ends without a happy ending.

The reason that this type of movie is about ready to fizzle out is this: the formula is not only obvious, but the flaws are becoming increasingly obvious, as evidenced by Mirrors.

First, Mirrors introduces us to a frightening concept and pulls us in: the images in mirrors are not out own, and can physically harm us! Pretty creepy, right? Except that (just as in the best movies of this sort, like The Ring) there is no internal logic to the concept. At some points, the images harm the characters. At others, they simply communicate. Sometimes, they can harm the character even while the character isn’t looking, or isn’t in the mirror’s reflection. Other times, they can be stopped when a character walks away from a mirror, or covers it. Sometimes, they can reach out of a mirror and grab someone. Other times, not so lucky. And then there’s the problem of “reflections.” Sometimes the movie asks us to believe that mirrors are the sole source of danger, and other times, reflections (glass, water, metal) are also deadly. The movie is built around creating scary scenes (as if the director simply brainstormed ways that mirrors could be scary), not around any established particulars or rules of the haunting at the movie’s center. This is like a space travel movie that sometimes asks us to believe people can breathe in space, or that there is gravity in space, only when it is appropriate to create an interesting scene, then changes its mind when it wants to put its astronaut characters in danger.

The other major problem with this type of film is this: the ghosts (or demons, or spirits, or whatever is the cause behind all the hauntings and mysteries) always want something, but their actions do not match their desires. For instance, in The Ring, the little girl wanted to escape the well, right? So why did she keep killing all the people who could potentially solve the mystery? And in Mirrors, the demons in the mirrors keep writing “Esseker” in the glass, prompting victims to search for something or someone named Esseker. If they can’t find this person or thing, the mirrors kill them and their families, etc. Kiefer Sutherland is able to deduce that Esseker is a person, and finally finds her, and we learn why this person is important to the mirrors. But…if the mirrors truly wanted this woman, why couldn’t they have been more specific? They have the power and ability to write a last name, but not a first name? And not to give just a hint of direction (Hey Kiefer, “Esseker” is a woman, and you can find her at this location!)? Do they really want to accomplish their mission, or would they rather just kill and cause mischief among the people who can help? If this was a frat boy ghost, I can see the appeal of committing pranks…otherwise, though, once you ask “What does the haunting want?” in a movie like this, you start to realize how ridiculous the entire premise really is.

Mirrors provides a few scary moments, but it’s so convoluted and stupid that you forget about those scary moments, or laugh immediately afterward, because you realize how pointless the whole thing is. Wow. Never thought I’d say this, but this film makes torture flicks look good.

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