Mirrors vs. Oculus
Another versus piece, but this one’s really a non-contest. Two horror films centred around mirrors that toy with themes of perception and reality, but one does the job far better than the other and by no small degree. You know what, I’m just going to launch straight into this one:
Kiefer Sutherland stars as a security guard in an abandoned and burnt out department store with suspiciously clean mirrors. His first few shifts prove he’s less alone than he ought to be, and much like the last guard is dragged into the demands of the spirits who live inside the reflections, who leave messages for him in the glass, and enforce their will through grim acts of violence.
Mirrors plays on the creepy concept that our reflections do things when we aren’t looking at them, and that they play out different lives outside of our control. The notion of mirrors as a portals is nothing new but Mirrors uses is it to increasingly powerful effect as the spectres that haunt the store grow in influence and follow him and his family through any reflection available, from the rear-view mirror to a puddle on the floor. A lot of the fear in this film is generated in the visuals, and to a certain extent of breaking expectations in the most unnerving way possible.
It must be said that the performances are a little flat, perhaps not through lack of effort but the characters themselves aren’t all that memorable, and the secret asylum under the store seems like a cheap horror plot. The twist at the end is so obvious I don’t feel it deserves a spoiler tag, Sutherland sacrifices himself for his son, and ends up on the other side of the mirror, walking around like a phantom in a world of backwards text.
After Kaylie picks up her brother Tim from the institute that had held him in lieu of a prison sentence she takes him to help her document, report, and ultimately destroy the mirror that drove their parents insane. He doesn’t believe her at first, but soon discovers that the truth he’s been encouraged to believe is far from the more terrible reality, as the mirror bends their perception, sucks the life from everything nearby, and slowly tries to kill them before they can kill it.
Karen Gillan is superb as the hard faced Kaylie, and is one of my favourite horror protagonists after Arthur Kipps in Woman In Black. There’s no running around asking “What’s going on?” or “Why is this happening to me?” She knows, and she’s doing something about it, and trying to help her brother in the process, and she’s having no nonsense from a piece of furniture. Her brother on the other hand is having to deal with the fact that his delusions were the truth, and a lifetime of therapy was all for nothing.
I love how this film toys with the notion of perception and how it can effect reality and vice versa, especially when bouncing back and forth between the siblings first and second encounter with the mirror, as terrified children watching their parents destroy (Katee Sackhoff and Rory Cochrane) themselves, and as determined adults taking their revenge. As the events take place in the same house, and with the mirror altering reality every few minutes, the transition to present and flashback becomes a journey in itself, and the enclosed locale gives Oculus a claustrophobia that horror thrives on.
I admit, I used the whole Versus format to talk about Oculus, and even then I’d like to point out that I restrained myself from overdoing it! It’s high up in my list of favourite horrors, and may even be somewhere in my top twenty films, although that’s a list I dread assembling and daren’t ever put in order.
Mirrors is an ok film, worth a watch but quietly predictable, even for someone notoriously bad at spotting the plot twist coming. I found myself watching and thinking they could have done so much more with the concept, and many of the ideas that sprang from that idle thought were apparently snatched up and put into Oculus.