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Home Movies: Through the Glass, Darkly

While director Alexandre Aja and longtime screenwriting collaborator Grégory Levasseur have proven themselves artful purveyors of fright, they too often squander their talents on stories that collapse beneath the weight of misplaced ambition.

Consider their singularly frustrating breakthrough, 2003’s High Tension. It’s a nasty slice of psychotic mayhem, straightforward and unsettling until, in its waning moments, Aja and Levasseur play fast and loose with the film’s internal logic. Their follow-up, a remake of Wes Craven’s The Hills Have Eyes, was little more than a technical exercise, but a mostly effective one, demonstrating that the French duo is quite capable of spinning nightmarish visions into tightly constructed yarns.

None of which helps to explain Mirrors, their curiously listless foray into the gothic underworld. A remake of the little-known South Korean thriller Into the Mirror, unseen by me, Aja and Levasseur’s latest is a handsome production, shot mostly in Bucharest’s unfinished (and sufficiently spooky) Academy of Sciences building, where the mirrors have taken on lives of their own. What do they want? Carnage, and lots of it. Why do they want it? That’s anyone’s guess.

It’s hard to get worked up about reflective glass, even of the killer variety, though Keifer Sutherland musters his customary workmanlike intensity as Ben Carson, an ex-cop hired to watch over a burned-out department store adorned with wall-to-wall mirrors. Ben, three months removed from a bout with the bottle, doesn’t win much sympathy from his estranged wife (Paula Patton) with tales of demons lurking in the looking glass, but she’s converted soon enough. By that point, Mirrors is already mired in narrative quicksand, as Aja and Levasseur’s convoluted backstory (involving a loony bin and a troubled nun) confuses more than it explains.

Doesn’t Sutherland deserve better? Having dutifully served his country for eight long years as counter-terrorist super-agent Jack Bauer, the 24 star (born Keifer William Frederick Dempsey George Rufus Sutherland) would seem ideally positioned to parlay his small-screen resurgence into a second career as a leading man. (His first fizzled soon after 1990’s Flatliners.) Of late, though, Sutherland’s most visible roles have included a supporting turn in the business-as-usual thriller The Sentinel and his conscientious slog through Mirrors. Jack Bauer can disarm nuclear weapons without breaking a sweat, but he apparently can’t locate a script worthy of his multi-nominal alter ego.

Bonus Features: Released simultaneously on Blu-Ray and DVD, Mirrors boasts an alternate ending that’s slightly more moving (but no less confounding) than the one featured in theaters last fall. Along with eight deleted scenes and a 20-minute history of mirrors – it’s more interesting than it sounds – the Blu-Ray edition offers exclusive picture-in-picture commentary by Aja and Levasseur, captured in DTS-HD Master Audio that enhances the mood, which is appropriately gloomy throughout.

Elsewhere on DVD & Blu-Ray

I believe director Mathieu Kassovitz when he says Babylon A.D. began as a serious meditation on the future of a world ravaged by political irresponsibility, even if his choice of leading men – the brusque, caveman-like Vin Diesel – suggests a less cerebral exercise. Kassovitz’s brooding thriller unfolds like a low-rent retread of Alfonso Cuarón’s Children of Men, which had emphatic ideas about genetic engineering, authoritarian governments and their affiliation with organized religion. Babylon A.D. has ideas, too, but they are hopelessly lost in a story with no interior logic. Kassovitz has since condemned the project as “a terrible experience,” and dismissed the film as “pure violence and stupidity.” Who am I to argue?