Tuesday, 17 July 2012

Dark Mirror

2007
Dir. Pablo Proenza

When her family moves into a new home, photographer Deborah (Lisa Vidal) gradually begins to suspect sinister things are stirring from the house’s past. She catches glimpses of shadowy figures and doorways that aren't there in the mirrors and reflective surfaces. When she talks to her new neighbours she discovers that the previous owner, a famous artist, vanished in mysterious circumstances. Deborah is further convinced something evil lurks within the house as everyone she photographs dies in unnatural circumstances. Is poor Deborah experiencing a nervous breakdown? Or are there actually evil spirits trapped in the glass surfaces of her new home, waiting to pounce into our world?

The mirror has featured heavily throughout horror cinema as a source of danger and fear. Psychologically speaking they are often used to address ideas revolving around the fear of one’s self and psychological breakdown. A common visual motif in films in which someone is suffering from psychological issues is to show them looking in a shattered mirror, signifying their shattered psyche, confused identity and warped view of the world. To echo Dr. Frank Mandel in Dario Argento's Suspiria: Bad luck isn't brought by broken mirrors, but by broken minds. In overtly fantastical narratives mirrors can also act as spooky gateways to other dimensions and realms from which demonic forces can enter our lives. Ideas such as these stem from all sorts of superstitions and urban myths throughout the world and are touched upon in Dark Mirror.



Hauntingly ambiguous, the film is not only a moody, lo-fi ghost tale; it also works well as the study of a lonely woman’s increasingly fractured mind. Deborah has a hard time readjusting to her new life in LA. Her husband works long hours, her new neighbours are weird, she feels a distance forming between her and her young son and her hopes of working as a professional photographer are constantly dashed. The odd occurrences are initially explained away when it is suggested they are figments of her bored and frustrated mind. When her estranged mother comes to visit, she tells Deborah that the cut glass throughout the house is, according to traditional feng shui, used to trap evil spirits and prevent them from entering the home. Spooky.

A modestly budgeted film, Dark Mirror relies on few locations, the main one being Deborah's new house. Boasting myriad cut glass windows and mirrors, it resembles a jewel box; a sort of supernatural glass house. The cinematography by Armando Salas utilises shadows and light to rather elegant effect and imbues the film with a distinct look and atmosphere. The rippling light reflected on walls from the cut glass windows is eerily, shimmeringly beautiful. Given the unsettling mystery surrounding the glass and mirrors in the story, this provides a suitably ominous atmosphere throughout. That much of the horror actually happens during daylight hours, and is created by sunlight sparkling through ornate glass, also enrobes the film in an odd and distinct atmosphere.

Director Proenza maintains an air of ambiguity to keep us engaged as events unfold; all the while kindling a foreboding and slow-burning tension. At times the film has a distinctly European feel due to the quirky direction and camerawork. This is exemplified in the scene where Deborah photographs herself in the bathroom mirror and as she is startled by the flash, Proenza cuts to a shot of the light from the flash as it appears to travel through infinite reflections cast in the mirrors of the room, seemingly awakening something in the house as it emerges out through a mirror in an adjoining room. The moment defies logic but conveys a sense of menacing mystery. The director laces proceedings with striking images such as the sight of the neighbour’s body sinking into a pool of blood on the floor, and perfectly exploits in-camera visual trickery to enhance the suspense. He is particularly innovative in the direction of the scene where Barbara is chasing Eleanor through the house by following her reflection in the many glass surfaces and mirrors.

While Dark Mirror doesn't exactly break a lot of new ground, it is still a thoroughly decent thriller with an intriguing central mystery that benefits from often strikingly beautiful and odd camera work. As it reaches its increasingly fraught climax, there are more than a few moments of atmospheric intensity, while the tragic and ambiguous ending proves hauntingly effective.

6 comments:

Marie said...

The synopsis didn't grab me but it does sound like it has interesting lighting and camera work. I will keep this one in mind!

James Gracey said...

Some of the lighting and camera work is rather beautiful Marie; really gives the film an interesting feel. I enjoyed the story too, sure it was nothing life changing, but a solid little thriller nonetheless. Hope you enjoy it if you ever get a chance to check it out. :)

Dr. Theda said...

There are no "things in mirrors" at my home ...but there are "shadowy figures" ...I seldom ever see them....It is other who see them and tell me ... ( most are genuinely Frightened while relating what they just saw...)
No big deal ....Do NOT ever come in psychical contact with one of these "shadows".....
Something to think about Kiddies....

James Gracey said...

Oooooh. Ominous. Thanks for the warning, Doc. I shall remain vigilant. ;)

psynno said...

I saw this recently, thanks for highlighting it. Glad you appreciated the beautiful moments in this film as much as I did. There are many creepy memorable moments. The optical illusion through the bathroom mirror was really chilling. whatever its faults everything about it was cinematic and the lighting/camera effects were used to mirror her point of view/breakdown which is more that can be said for most modern films which are far too preoccupied with style.

Have you seen ABSENTIA? Another low budget horror which was really effective I thought. I hope you get to review this James, highly recommended.

James Gracey said...

I watched it without really knowing anything about it. For some reason I initially thought it was a Spanish film; it DID have a certain European feel to it.

Alas, I haven't seen ABSENTIA, but have read nothing but good things about it. Must check it out! Thanks for recommending it - hope you are well. :)