I recently headed over to the Paramount Lot to visit horror maestro Alexandre Aja in his private editing suite. There, he, writer-producer Gregory Levasseur, and editor Baxter were putting the finishing touches on their 20th Century Fox August thriller Mirrors. And the first thing they wanted me to know is that, despite what may have been posted on the Internet, this isn't a remake of Sung-ho Kim's Korean film Into the Mirrors. While the Keifer Sutherland film does have some similarities, the two projects are vastly different.
Aja's film follows a night security guard in a burned out department store who discovers that the mirrors inside have the capability of bringing out the worst in people. About the original Korean film, Aja stated, "We received a script from Regency called Into the Mirrors, and we didn't know anything about the movie. When we read it, we didn't connect with the story at all. We didn't connect with the characters or the scares. But there was something about the simple idea of using the mirrors. When we started talking about the script, we realized that both men and women are constantly looking at themselves in the mirror. Who knows how many times in a day. Not just house mirrors, but people are constantly looking at themselves in rearview mirrors, water, glass. Anything that has a reflection. It's just nuts. You may look at yourself ten times, thirty times, a hundred times in a day. Some people are obsessed with their image, some people cannot stand their image. There is always a very strange feeling. It is the link to the mirror. Some religions demand that you cover all of the mirrors when someone dies, because you don't want to get trapped on the other side. Many things started to make sense around these mirrors."
Alexandre continued, saying, "We realized that, besides Into the Mirrors, there really hasn't been a movie about people's obsession with the mirror. We wanted to go with that concept. So, even though we didn't connect with that original script, we liked the idea of it. We looked at the movie. Besides the opening scene, and maybe one or two other scenes that we have in our movie, we just didn't connect to it. It was about someone that wanted justice. The basic premise of all these ghost stories that are out there now. It just wasn't very interesting. So we went to Regency and told them that we wanted to make a different type of supernatural movie. We wanted it to be about mirrors, but we wanted it to be in the same vein as The Shining. So we convinced them to let us throw away the script. We did not use the Korean movie. We brought in our own story. Physically, it is not a remake. It is completely different in logic and scares."
After that introduction, Aja cued up the first scene in the film. The only scene that has any resonance with the original. The image opens in black, loud heavy breathing seeped from the speakers surrounding us. We were soon introduced to a bald security guard who seemed to be running for his life. He hurries down a graphitized subway tunnel, and then gets in a tussle with a wrought iron gate. Aja has crafted a very distinct visionary palate with his past works (which include The Hills Have Eyes and High Tension). His imprint is instantly recognizable in the exacting details and colors of the photography on display here. We watched as the security guard breaks through a bright red door, which screams as a beacon in this dreary, muck green atmosphere. The bald man hurries into a break room. He tries to scoot a vending machine across the floor, hoping to block the door, but stops mid-push. Something is outside. Something is coming for him. He hurries over to one of the open windows and peers outside, "Oh, fuck!"
All of the clothes lockers that surround him swing open. Each contains a vanity mirror that now supports and presents his terrified image. The guard swings himself around, coming face to face with himself in a giant wall mirror. He looks at his own image, pleading, "I wasn't trying to escape!"
The mirror starts to splinter and crack. A jagged shard of glass falls from the mirror and onto the floor. The security guard is horrified of his own visage, "I don't want to die!" The mirror image sneers, bending over to pick up the piece of broken mirror. It shoves the sharp makeshift knife into its own throat and slits it sideways. This move rips the actual living man's throat open in a geyser of sticky red blood that sprays in every direction. The scene is a gruesome, teeth gritting bit of horror magic that introduces us to what could be the next perfect ghostly outing. It surely doesn't lack the "gore factor" in any sense of the word.
As Aja tells it, "We just finished our fight with the MPAA. It was not as intense as we had envisioned. I am still in shock of what they let us keep. Physically, we have the movie we want. I don't even have enough footage to do an unrated cut. This time, we didn't play to that, because we were sure that they were going to make us cut much more out of it. Sure, we have more footage. We could extend the film nearly five minutes. But it wont be any more efficient or gruesome. I will show you a scene, and you tell me if we need more blood."
And with that, Alexandre cued up a scene that begins with Amy Smart staring at herself in the bathroom mirror. Smart plays Keifer Sutherland's sister in the film. Sutherland's character is staying with her because his wife has kicked him out of his own home. For those interested, yes, we do get to see Smart's naked body in the film. Here, as referenced in the opening scene, we watch Amy leave the mirror only to find her image stuck in place. Smart's mirrored visage watches with anger as the young woman disrobes and crawls into a warm bathtub full of water. As she soaks up the soapy liquid, her reflection grabs its own bottom jaw and its top row of teeth. An eye-covering face rip ensues. As the image tears off the jaw, we see invisible hands doing the same to Smart in the bathtub. The entire lower half of her head is torn away from bone and flesh. The tongue juts out of the mouth, lapping at the water in a fit of spasms. Blood covers the bathroom tiles. It is a shocking, X rated scene that somehow didn't bother the MPAA too much. As Gregory Levasseur put it, "Maybe they really liked the movie. Maybe they saw that and went, 'That is great!' Maybe that is what they wanted to see, they thought it was cool."
Aja jumped in, "We have a scene where a mother cuts the throat of a little girl. That didn't seem to be a problem either. The reflection of the mother is taking over this house, and at one point she grabs this seven year old girl and literally slices open her throat."
To follow this up, Alexandre spun around in his chair to cue up the next scene, which introduces Kiefer's character and explains how he came to work as a security guard in this burnt out department store. The storefront looked like nothing I'd ever seen before. A charred white Victorian style political reserve that somewhat resembles the Bed Bath and Beyond in Lower Manhattan. While the film takes place in New York City, the actual department store, which is chalk full of spooky mirrors, was shot in Bucharest, Romania. The interior and exterior were filmed in separate buildings just minutes away from one another. Since then, a New York backdrop has been painted into the background behind the building. Aja tells us, "It's funny, because, still, a lot of it was also shot in Los Angeles. And we shot inside a house in New Jersey. When we were writing the script, we decided that the department store needed to be a character. We went to Bucharest and found these huge buildings that had been abandoned. We went there and took over the place. We redressed everything inside and used it as a real location."
Romania's abandoned dog problem and another local film crew provided some obstacles for this team while shooting on location, "Basically, in Bucharest, there are a lot of strays running around. If we are shooting inside on a particular day, its because we had too many dogs running around outside. That actually caused us to change a lot. We are talking about three hundred thousand abandoned dogs." What about this other film crew? "The Seeker: The Dark is Rising was also shooting at the same time. They took away all of our people. For nothing. They thought they were shooting this big movie, and we were nothing. We were first in Romania, but when they finished shooting, we had to go and grab people from them. It was a little crazy."
From what we got to see in the edit bay, the film looks spectacularly gruesome. It could very well end up being the scariest film of the year. It will definitely be the goriest ghost story in recent memory, if not in the history of the genre. While Aja and his team have crafted the exact film they envisioned, there was a little bump on the road to completion. The studio had them reshoot the ending, and then they tested it twice. Aja's ending won out. Alexandre says, "The structure of the movie is building up, building up, building up really high. It has a very big, action, horror, twisted finale. The studio wanted to stay a little bit more logical. They wanted something for a wider audience, like The Sixth Sense. There was no evolution of structure in their ending. So we fought against that. We fought to keep what was on paper. They didn't think the audience would want to go that extra step. Our ending is the one the test audiences wanted to see. Our original ending is the one that wound up in the film."