Last Exorcism interview & Piranha 3D review: Cinefantastique Podcast 1:28

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It’s a day of interviews and reviews at the Cinefantastique Horror, Fantasy & Science Fiction podcast. First, a chat with director Daniel Stamm and producer Eli Roth on their film THE LAST EXORCISM, opening on Friday, August27. Then an in-depth discussion of PIRANHA 3D, Alexandre Aja’s ultra-gory remake of the 1978 cult classic directed by Joe Dante. Plus the usual round-up of news, events, and home video releases.

Below is a written transcript of Dan Person’s  interview with Stamm and Roth, regarding THE LAST EXORCISM, heard in the podcast.
CFQ: “Let me start with you Daniel. One of the things I noticed in your bio was that at some point you hitchhiked across the United States with only your ID. From doing that, what did you bring from your experience there into this film?
DS: “That’s a tricky question. I think what that did to me was it gave me a good overview of how different the different states in the U.S. are and how the one thing that connects them all – all my experiences – were that they very spiritual. There were a lot of people talking about God, lot of people talking about Jesus, which is something I never encountered hitchhiking in Europe. You could go through all of Europe and no one would ever mention God, where as hitchhiking from the east coast to the west coast, God came up in almost every single conversation. People were terrified to take me with them because hitchhiking has a different feel over here than it does in Europe, so a lot of people would say, “You know I’m terrified right now, but God told me to take you with me” or “I couldn’t just let you stand by the side of the road”. So there is this kind of deeply ingrained spirituality that I saw in that journey, which I think is a lot of what THE LAST EXORCISM is talking about.
CFQ: “Eli – your name is on this, your reputation precedes you. The thing is this film is breaks rather noticeably from that reputation.Were you concerned with that ?”
ER: “No, it was actually exciting for me. I love gore and I love blood in movies but I really love all kinds of movies: I love PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, I love CLOVERFIELD, I love DISTRICT 9. Those were very different films and when I read the script for this – it was actually before any of those came out – I thought it was one of the best, scariest, smartest scripts I had ever read. Originally, the writers were going to direct it and the intention was never to make a gory film. I’ve made my name synonymous with blood and guts, which I’m very proud of but I also feel that people associate a different level of smarter horror with me. The fans know that if I’m going to get involved with a film that is PG-13 and is not a particularly gory film, there must be something very special about it.
I also love films that are at THE RING/THE GRUDGE end of the spectrum, anything that is well done and smart. Robert Wise’s THE HAUNTING is one of my all time favorite films and, even though I’ve never made that movie, I love those kinds of stories. I think it’s the kind of thing where, looking back over the course of my career, people will see different projects I have made and they all have one common theme but they’ll all have different levels of blood. I think as long as the fans know what they’re in for and aren’t expecting Hostel 3 and know that this is about possession not power tools, I think they’re going to love what Daniel has done. Daniel made a film that is so smart and so fun and really does a great job of slowly building the tension and really keeping the audience guessing the whole way through. It’s just as exciting for me to be apart of a film that I think is a great addition to the exorcism cannon of films as I was about HOSTEL.
CFQ: “In this particular film, Cotton Marcus [Patrick Fabian] relies on a lot of stage illusions. How much of that is reality, how much of that actually happens with these types of exorcisms, how much is invention?”
DS: “I think it’s hard to say because there are more exorcisms happening today than at anytime in history all over the world – in all religions – and I’m sure that every single one of them has a certain element of stage magic to them. I think that they function very differently in India than they do over here, so we kind of pulled from different sources. We never quoted one source and said, “This is what our research shows is being done” but its just different ideas and some are made up of ideas of what you could do if you were in that situation.
CFQ: “This film walks a real line as far as whether there is a supernatural element to it or not. How difficult was that to achieve? Were there any concerns about playing that line as carefully as you are?”
ER: “Well, that really came about in the writing and development in the screenplay. You want the audience to think one thing and just when they think they have it figured out, you add in a new layer that they never saw coming but something that makes sense; Not a twist for the sake of a twist but something that engages you further going, “Oh my god I didn’t see that” or “That’s weird!” And for me, what’s unique and fun about the film is in this documentary format that, at first it’s Cotton Marcus in control and he basically slowly loses control to Nell. Its really about the clash of Science and Religion, but in this it’s the Reverend that’s coming from the scientific point of view saying, “She’s Crazy” and it’s the father coming from the place of devout faith saying, “She said she was possessed”, “She IS possessed”, “The demon is still in here”, “Get it out!” So suddenly it’s not even about being possessed or not it’s about getting her to stop behaving that way or the father is going to shoot her. What I loved about the script – and what I think Daniel did so brilliantly – was playing it all very real but never answering the question; just really keeping the audience, leading them one direction and then another direction and that’s what Daniel did so brilliantly in the film.
CFQ: “In terms of keeping it grounded in the reality, how much of this was shot on location?”
DANIEL STAMM: “All of it was shot on location.”
CFQ: “Where did you do this?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Close to New Orleans and the 9th ward that was flooded by Katrina. There was this old plantation that got flooded completely – 6 feet high…the watermark was still on the walls. And we shot all of that on the plantation. Even the shed and everything was all there.
CFQ: “How difficult was that?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Well it was difficult in that it wasn’t air conditioned and to shoot in New Orleans and Louisiana in June & July, it was exhausting for the actors. But it does something to them because they’re bathed in sweat the whole time and you kind of have the smell and the insects. It adds a level or realism that you couldn’t create, and I think that shows in the acting, that they’re kind of reacting to something that is there that they don’t have to pretend is there. They don‘t have to act.”
CFQ: “ How were the actors coping with this? Was there a lot of swearing ‘Next shoot – The Bahamas’?”
DANIEL STAMM: “There was some joking about ‘Where is my trailer?’, because we didn’t have trailers and it was important to me that the actors would form a sort of community and family. I didn’t want them to go off into their trailers and kind of separate and only get together for the scene. What I wanted was a kind of feeling that they know each other and have known each other for a while. So even with Cotton Marcus’ family, I had them spend 1 day together and play games together with the boy and the two parents so that when they actually appear together on screen you have the feeling that they have some back story, that there is more than just actors pretending to be a family. That was important.”
CFQ: “I’m doing some writing for another website and in doing some preparation for that I watched a lot of exorcism films. It’s sort of amazing to see, in contrast to your film, how many of those other films are grounded in Catholicism, to the point where it comes as something of a shock that there is this Evangelical aspect to THE LAST EXORCISM. In reading the script, did that surprise you or was that an appealing factor for you?”
ER: “No, I think what makes it interesting is that a lot of people don’t know that there are exorcisms in every religion and our movie exists in a world where the characters have seen THE EXORCIST and they mention it, acknowledge it and talk about THE EXORCIST and reference it. But what we discovered in the development of the script in the writing and figuring out how scenes are going to be shot and discussing things with Daniel is that pretty much everything people think about exorcisms comes from THE EXORCIST. If you think about zombies: there were zombies before NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD, they were the kind of I WALKED WITH A ZOMBIE that was kind of voodoo based. And George Romero comes out with NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and suddenly, they eat your flesh and if you’re bitten you turn and shoot them in the head. Every rule of zombies is literally is derived from Romero. And in that same way THE EXORCIST is such a cultural landmark that things people think of…everything about it comes from that film.
I think that – even these movies that are dealing with Catholicism – a lot of these films haven’t even bothered to do research beyond it or weren’t interested in doing research beyond it. Or maybe that was what the subject matter was – there are certainly fine films like THE EXORCISM OF EMILY ROSE – but I’m talking about more knock-off movies. We didn’t want this film to feel derivative, and Daniel was very specific about not making a specific denomination. We didn’t want to say that this is something that only happens to Catholics. We wanted to make it much broader so that you could really apply it to any religion.

CFQ: “So Daniel, if you’re going to keep this ambiguous as far as denomination is concerned, how complex was that to do?”

DANIEL STAMM: “To keep it ambiguous? It was pretty simple because the man is a trickster anyway and he’s kind of making up his own stage show, as you were saying. It was more important when we showed him in the church with his congregation that we keep to the facts and we did a lot of research on it. But once he goes off by himself and delivers that show, I think he’s free to do whatever he wants.
CFQ: “How much did Patrick Fabian bring to the role?”
DANIEL STAMM: “Everything. I mean he IS Cotton Marcus. That was kind of important with this casting that there was a lot of freedom for the actors to create the character. A lot of the characters are called by their real names – the actor’s names – to kind of blur that line between the character and the actual person.
CFQ: “Thank you very much for talking with us.”
DANIEL STAMM: “Thank you.”
ELI ROTH: “Thank you!”

Transcript by R. Patrick Alberty


Piranah 3D horror film review

piranha3d-frenchvintageposter-full-480x640Since Alexandre Aja and company could not be bothered to craft a coherent movie, I see no reason I should go to the trouble of writing a coherent review; instead, I will follow their lead and just throw together a series of random thoughts “inspired” by this cinematic chum-bucket.
The first is that, because PIRANHA 3D unabashedly embraces exploitation, I would like to cut it some slack; criticizing gratuitous gore and second-rate scripting is really besides the point. The problem is that PIRANHA 3D isn’t even good exploitation; it’s flat-out schlock of the laziest kind. Sure, it’s loaded with buckets full of gore, but you can see better exploitation in a “respectable” Steven Spielberg film (I’m thinking of the female assassin in MUNICH who is executed with a bullet between her naked breasts – you won’t see anything that powerfully sleazy in PIRANHA 3D).
Apparently, the script was written as a comedy, and Aja thought he could bring the tension of a serious movie. Guess what? The writers forgot the comedy, and the director forgot the tension! For the most part, PIRANHA 3D is neither-nor rather than either-or: not scary and not funny. It is also seldom sexy despite a visual aesthetic is less exploitation horror than “Girls Gone Wild” – it looks good in the trailer but wears thin awfully fast in a feature-length film.
There is very little plot – which is to be expected from this kind of thing – and the pacing  glacial – which is really not to be expected from this kind of thing. If you’re going to make a film that is just an excuse to intercut T-&-A and gore, you might want to c0me up with some memorable set-pieces and string them together in a way that doesn’t lull us to sleep. Instead, the big moments tend toward the lame.
On the T-&A side, there is a underwater ballet (complete with classical-sounding music) that is supposed to be a hoot because it features two naked chicks. The CGI origins are so obvious – not to mention the impossibly long time without breathing – that you expect a cutaway revealing that we are watching a video game. However, PIRANHA 3D wants us to accept the action as real. (Perhaps I missed the joke – was I supposed to laugh at how bad the scene is?)
On the suspense side, there is a lengthy scene with some stranded characters trying to get off a sinking boat by climbing a rope suspended over the water. All I will say here is that the scene was done much better in Greg McLean’s ROGUE (2007), which you should all run out and rent instead of buying a ticket to this this frightless flotsam.
PIRANHA 3D is seldom enjoyable in an “it’s only a movie” kind of way. Yes, it’s mildly amusing that Richard Dreyfuss (Hooper in JAWS) shows up in the first scene, and it’s way cool that Eli Roth is on-screen just so he can have his head splattered in a boating accident. But that’s about it for good in-jokes.
Piranha Ving Rhames power-motors the fishThere are occasional moments when PIRANHA 3D threatens to come to life. When the fish hits the pan during the climactic assault on resort, Adam Scott, as a vaguely defined scientist guy named Novak, inexplicably morphs into action-her0 mode just because that would be cool, but the film quickly cuts away to other mayhem before taking this idea anywhere interesting. The same happens when Ving Rhames, as a Sheriff’s deputy, takes an outboard motor in hand, using it as a weapon to hold off the piranha while potential victims retreat: what should have been a great melodramatic moment, along the lines of Hanzo’s sword fight in PREDATORS, yields a few 3-D effects as fish parts go flying – and then cuts away before it reaches the climax.
Perhaps I should mention that having the sheriffs blast the piranhas with shotguns is really stupid – almost as stupid as having the lead sheriff (Elisabeth Shue) taser one. The script misses a really good opportunity for a clever seen here: because of the different refraction of light in water versus air, shooting at where a fish appears to be underwater would inevitable send the buckshot or taser dark a few inches away from the actual target. Now that would have been a great scene: the bull’s eye right on target, followed by the blast – only to reveal, after the smoke cleared, the unharmed piranha zeroing in for the attack.
Exploitation films can be a thrill because they feel free to avoid subtlety, etching characters in ways that make you either (a) really glad or (b) really sad to see them devoured by the monster du jour. PIRANHA 3D fails in this elemental test. Just about everyone is a mildly annoying jerk who doesn’t make you feel strongly one way or the other whether or not he/she survives.
The one exception is bungled. Some scumbag asshole begins running over people in his boat, trying to save himself. He’s obviously being set up to die a well-deserved death, but all we see is the boat turning over. All that set up for no payoff? Right there, Aja should have his exploitation credentials revoked, and his booster at the gore-hound websites should hang their collective head in disgrace.

With that bod, you know she's not the final girl1
With that bod, it's not much of a spoiler to suggest that Kelly Brook might end up as piranha-chow.

The gore effects are well done technically, but since the whole film feels like an adolescent boy’s sick fantasy (“Oh boy, the piranha are gonna bite that bikini-clad girl’s butt!”), the gore seldom achieves the sick level of disgust that was apparently intended. The one exception is the para-sailing woman whose dead, legless body is seen briefly suspended in the sky after a rapid-fire attack by the killer fish.
Here again, PIRANHA 3D bungles its own best moments: there are no repercussions from this scene, which should have sent the woman’s crazed friends running to the authorities. Even worse, our lead characters have been watching the woman – through a video camera no less – but through some editorial fudging, we’re supposed to assume they were distracted at the key moment; otherwise, they would hardly hang around to become piranha chow in the third act.
And while we’re on the topic of editorial malfeasance: the first time we see a victim pulled from the water with feet/legs/lower abdomen missing, it is effective; but cutting to the same shock effect two, three, or four more times  in later scenes only bores us with the repetition.
Piranha 3D (2010)The prehistoric piranhas are nicely designed, but the computer graphics are not terribly impressive. Real water is murky, with refracting light – perfect for moody menace, with vaguely defined shapes lurking at the periphery of vision. CGI renders all this in detail that is unbelievably clear, particularly an underground lake that is visualized as the earth-bound underwater equivalent of the egg chamber in ALIEN: it looks cool, but the visual effects edge the film into fantasy, away from horror.
The 3-D makes matters worse, adding to the unreality of the fish effects. Although designed as a 3-D film, PIRANHA was shot flat and converted in the post-production. The result is not as bad as the awful job done on THE LAST AIRBENDER, but there are still tell-tale signs: although separated into foreground, mid-ground, and background, objects tend to look flat, especially when filmed through telescopic lenses. I do have to give Aja credit for the scene wherein the leading lady pukes into our faces – a deliberately cheesy moment almost (albeit not quite) worthy of FLESH FOR FRANKENSTEIN (which still stands as the all-time champ of 3-D excess).
Unfortunately, good gimmicky moments like these are the exception. The norm is mis-matched depth, such as an awkward moment when Jake Forester (Steven R. McQueen) and Derrick Jones (Jerry O’Connell) are supposed to be staring eye-to-eye, and instead it looks as though they are misaligned by about a foot. (By the way, although O’Connell clearly enjoys playing a sleazy “Girls Gone Wild” director, his character is not nearly as much fun as a very similar one seen in 2006’s HATCHET).
In retribution for briefly acting like a Girl Gone Wild, Kelly (Jessica Szohr) is reduced to a damsel in distress.
In retribution for briefly acting like a Girl Gone Wild, Kelly (Jessica Szohr) is reduced to a damsel in distress.

The script evinces occasional attempts to thwart expectations. For example, the usual dichotomy between the slut and the nice girl is blurred, making us a little less certain which will be the “final girl,” but in the end the obvious choice survives (the film also contrives to turn her into a damsel in distress, as if punishing her for her brief flirtation with going “wild”). But then Aja is all about being “unpredictable” in a very predictable way. As in THE HILLS HAVE EYES (2006) and MIRRORS (2008), the obligatory “happy ending” is mere prologue for the allegedly unexpected “twist” – which arrives on schedule with clockwork precision. If the goal is truly to be unpredictable, a better strategy at this point would be to do something that actually works on conventional terms.
Despite the title, PIRANHA 3D contains no credit to the 1978 PIRANHA, except for thank you to Joe Dante, who directed the original. It’s just as well. Except for the images of piranhas attacking a resort, and an underwater rescue with the hero being pulled by a boat tow line, PIRANHA 3D has little in common with the 1978 Roger Corman production, which is one of the best exploitation-horror films ever made. In fact – and much to its detriment – PIRANHA 3D bears far more resemblance to Corman’s dreary follow-up, UP FROM THE DEPTHS (1979).
P.S. – I just want to add that the gratuitous and completely unexplained shot of a diver disappearing beneath the surface of the water, which then begins to churn red with blood, looks like a teaser trailer that was inserted randomly into the film’s first half because someone in the editing room realized nothing much was happening in the film.
Piranha 3D: Jessica SzohrPIRANHA 3D (August 20, 2010, Dimension Films). Directed by Alexandre Aja. Written by Pete Goldfinger & Josh Stolberg. Cast: Elisabeth Shue, Steven R. McQueen, Jessica Szohr, Ving Rhames, Jerry O’Connell, Kelly Brook, Riley Steele, Adam Scott, Dina Meyer, Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Lloyd, Eli Roth
Piranha 3D (2010) CGI fish

Aja to do COBRA Space Pirate – Clip

According to,  Alexandre Aja (PIRANHA 3D) has obtained the rights to the manga and anime space opera Cobra—The Space Pirate.
Not all that well known in the U.S.,  the Japanese manga was created  in 1978 by Buichi Terasawa for the Shonen Jump  magazine.
The successful comic book was turned into a an animated movie, and a cartoon series that’s been popular in Europe, where Alexandre Aja watched it growing up.
Long a dream project for him, he’s finaled been able to get the live action film rights, which he belives can be turned into a major space adventure film in 3-D. He is writing the screenplay with Gregory Levasseur and plans produce the film with Levasseur, Marc Sessego and Alexandra Milchan.
The 3-D idea is not just a band-wagon impluse, as the 1982 animated feature SPACE ADVENTURE COBRA was shot using a multi-plane technique, to give the film a feeling of 3-D.
Cobra is a young. blond, cigar-chomping  Space  Pirate, considered a rogue as he’s refused to ally himself with either the Space Pirates Guild or the United Galaxies. This makes Cobra, who has a weapon built into (or in lieu of ) one of his arms arm, his cbyernetic assistant Lady Armaroid, and his ship the Tortuga the targets of bounty hunters working for either side.
cobra_the_space_pirateOne of them, the sexy and mysterious Jane Royal,  becomes something of a love intertest and potential partner in a quest for hidden treasure. 
Juding from the cartoon opening,  Cobra comes off as a kind of blend of Han Solo and James Bond.  There is another level, because at one point, he changed his face and created a new, safe identity—taking the dramatic step of having his original memories supressed. As his adventures progress, he remembers more amd more of his past, and his abilities.

Piranha 3-D theatrical release date

Piranha 3-D (2010)Dimension Films releases this 3-D remake of the 1978 cult classic, originally produced by Roger Corman and directed by Joe Dante (GREMLINS). Sadly, the film was not shot in 3-D; it is being added in post-production (just like CLASH OF THE TITANS, and we all know how well that one worked out).
This time around, an earthquake unleashes swarms (schools?) of prehistoric piranhas, who make life miserable for folks living near the local lake. Elisabeth Shue stars as the sheriff trying to contain the situation, with support from Jerry O”connell and Dina Meyer, with appearances from Eli Roth, Christopher Lloyd, Ving Rhames, and Richard Dreyfuss. (Get it? Dreyfuss was in JAWS – don’t you feel yourself falling out of your chair with laughter?). Directed by Alexandre Aja, from a screenplay he worked on with Josh Stolbrg, Pete Goldfinger, and Gregory Levasseur. (What? No credit from John Sayles, who wrote the original?Aja still has fans based on HIGH TENSION, but one wonders who far they will follow him into the junkyard before finally giving up.
Release date: August 27.

Mirrors (2008) reflects badly on the horror genre

Mirrors have an endless fascination about them. Beyond the obvious temptation toward narcissism, there is the intriguing imaginary possibility of a parallel world on the other side of the looking glass, a mirror realm where every object has its duplicate – or is it opposite? Who among us does not dread the thought of confronting our own doppelganger – the vertiginous sense of dislocation inherent in such a confrontation would certainly guarantee a quick descent into delirium of confusion: Are we seeing our soul externalized, our counterpart from an alternate universe, our evil twin? What would we say to this reflection – and more importantly, what would our reflection say back?
You will not find any of these intriguing questions asked, much less answered, in MIRRORS, the new horror film from French director Alexandre Aja. Aja (who earned a cult reputation with the 2003 gore film HIGH TENSIO, a.k.a.Haute Tension) apparently thinks that metaphysical speculation is for wimps; his audience wants red meat, and he’s going to give it them, no matter how inappropriate it is for the subject matter at hand. Things get off to an “exciting” start with a gratuitously gory prologue in which nightwatchman Gary Lewis (Josh Cole) sees his own reflection cut his throat – which causes his own arteries to sever in loving lingering shots, blood drooling in glorious color across the screen.
The sequence is at least as misguided as the prologue in Aja 2006 remake of THE HILLS HAVE EYES; in fact, it is probably much worse, because it undermines the what follows, which focuses on a replacement nightwatchman named Ben Carson (Kiefer Sutherland) who begins seeing strange things in the mirrors of the burned-out department store where he works – things that might or might not be real. As in THE SHINING (1980), the narrative strategy is to ease the audience into the supernatural by initially presenting it as the hallucinations of a recovering alcoholic and then gradually allowing the accumulation of evidence to corroborate the visions as genuine.

Problem is: we know from the prologue that the visions are real, so the deliberate build-up of the first act is rendered pointless. (It is as if THE SHINING had begun with a prologue of Grady killing his family while being egged on up the ghost in the Overlook Hotel – and then expected us to wonder whether Jack Torrance was merely seeing things.) But then, gradually building tension is for wimps, too, as is atmosphere and the uncanny thrill of the supernatural. Aja’s target audience will simply refuse to sit still for this kind of thing, so it is absolutely necessary to lead with the bleed, trust that it will placate the gore-hounds, and just hope the narrative details will sort themselves out one way or the other.
There is some initial interest as the film deftly characterizes Carson as an ex-undercover-cop who quit the force after accidentally killing another officer. Estranged from his wife Amy, living with his sister Angela, he gets the nightwatchman job as a sort of second step toward recovery (after quitting the booze). Since we have reason to doubt his mental stability, the early scenes work up a decent level of tension (although the computer-generated rippling effect on the mirrors suggests less a gateway to another world than a television on the fritz1). As Carson makes his rounds, hears noises, and catches glimpses of things that are not there, we are safely in Turn of the Screw territory: Is he seeing ghosts, or is he cracking up?
Unfortunately, since we already know the answer, there is little reason to examine the clues closely for evidence that supports one reading or another. Instead, we just go along for the ride as he tries to convince his wife and his sister that he is not crazy. Sensing that the drama is growing boring, Aja tosses in a special effects set piece in which Angele takes a bath while her mirror image rips off her jaw. The effect upon the real Angela, achieved with some rubbery looking prosthetics, is unfortunately reminiscent of the deliberately comic makeup effects for Ash’s extending chin in ARMY OF DARKNESS.
Far worse, the scene reduces MIRRORS to the level of a crude gore movie. You cannot treat a character as an excuse for a makeup effect and then expect the audience to register any kind of emotional reaction to Ben’s grief over her death. Why should the viewers care when the filmmakers so obviously do not? To them, Angela is not a person, not even an imaginary one; she is simply a beautiful body to be rent asunder for the sake of a cheap gross-out.
After this, there is little left for the film to do but run through its paces in a mechanically efficient but utterly soulless manner. With the ghosts threatening Amy and his kids, Ben uncovers the source of the haunting and tracks down someone who can help, a nun named Anna Esseker. Anna used to be a patient in a hospital on the site where the department store now stands; her doctor’s rather novel therapy consisted of strapping her into a chair in a room surrounded by mirrors.
Unfortunately, Anna was not really schizophrenic but possessed, and the demons for some reason jumped into the mirrors, where they were trapped (although when you think about it, they are hardly trapped – they can travel to other mirrors in other buildings). The only way to appease the demons is to bring Anna back so that she can be, literally, repossessed. Reverting to Jack Bauer mode, Sutherland’s desperate ex-cop forces the reluctant Anna at gunpoint. (What a guy!)
We’re supposed to cut Ben some slack because he is trying to save his family (preserving one’s DNA obliterates all moral considerations, under the mask of protecting Family Values), but it is hard to work up much sympathy for such a synthetic Hollywood family, including the traditional “hot” wife, played by an actress (Paula Patton) who is ten years younger than Sutherland and is prone to walking around in tight, low-cut blouses. As if that were not enough, Aja contrives to get Amy’s clothes soaked into near transparency while she and her children are under assault in a home flooded with water, turning the floors into reflecting pools). The special effects and imagery are nicely handled in this sequence – up to a point. When Amy is reduced to helplessly splashing her hands in the water, she looks more like a chld throwing a tantrum than a mother rescuing her child.
Just in time to save mom and the kids, the demons leave their mirror world and re-enter Anna – which predictably turns out to be a huge strategic mistake, a demotion in power that no right-thinking supernatural force would ever willingly undertake. Now instead of being able to appear in any mirror, anywhere, and kill at will, the demonic entities can only make Anna jump around like one of Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead. (The final confrontation between here and Carson, set in a dank corridor, seems like a direct lift from either the cellar in EVIL DEAD 2 or the underground pit in ARMY OF DARKNESS – take your pick.)
Sounds like redemption, right? The alcoholic ex-cop saves his family in the nick of time, and now everything should be all right, shouldn’t it? No, you haven’t been listening to me: redemption, like everything else, is for wimps. You’re not actually supposed to care about Ben Carson or what happens to him; he’s just a punching bag, or better yet a target at which Aja can throw his darts. Needless to say, he has one more left in his hand, and he lets it fly. When it strikes, what’s left of the film pops and deflates into a pile of empty rubber, a piece of trash good only for the dustbin.
As practised by Aja and his cohorts in the Splat-Pack, the post-modern horror film has had it; as a sub-genre it is completely dead and worthless. Not only do we know the traditional dramatic tricks that post-modern films deliberately manipulate; we also recognize and expect the deliberate manipulation. Verisimilitude is treated as a con game to be exposed, but the exposure itself has become an even bigger con. The filmmakers do not care, and they do not expect you to care. Just buy your ticket and sit through the boring exposition, characterization, and drama in the hope that the odd gore scene will interrupt the tedium.
Forget about expecting any kind of catharsis; the only satisfaction offered is that of the knowing wink and nudge: You expected a happy ending – well, f-ck you, wimp!Except, we do not expect the happy ending. We expected the unexpected – the trite twist, the last-reel reversal, the deliberate downer. Back when George Romero hit us over the head with the latter (in 1968’s NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD), it was a devastating shock; now it is just another arbitrary ending, played like a winning trump. The problem is: although Aja has somehow earned a reputation as a card sharp, we knew he had the ace up his sleeve sleeve long before revealed it. If this is the best he can do, he should probably hand the deck to someone else.

Kiefer Sutherland's ex-cop distrusts his own reflection.

MIRRORS (2008). Directed by Alexandre Aja. Screenplay by Alexandre Aja & Gregory Levasseur, basedon the Korean film INTO THE MIRROR. Cast: Kiefer Sutherland, Paula Patton, Cameron Boyce, Erica Gluck, Amy Smart, Mary Beth Pei, John Shrapnel, Jason Flemyng, Tim Ahem, Julian Glover, Josh Cole, Ezra Buzzington.

  1. One cannot help wondering whether this television-like rippling effect is some vestige from THE RING or THE GRUDGE, in which ghosts actually did manifest through television sets.