Aja Reflects On Mirrors
The idea of yet another Asian horror remake, especially from a French director, doesn’t exactly thrill anyone. But it’s a different story when the man pulling the strings is Alexandre Aja. The director of High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes has been one of the few to successfully make the leap to Hollywood without compromising his work and he’s invited Dread Central down to his editing bay to show off scenes from his latest creation.
“I’m not sure if you’ve talked to the people who made The Eye or One Missed Call - all these other French directors who came here and had a very bad experience,” says Aja “We feel like we’re the lucky ones. If you don’t like the movie, it’s because of us not because of the studio. We’re not going to have a director’s cut because that’s the movie we’re going to release.”
Loosely based on the 2003 Korean film Into the Mirror, Aja’s version - simply titled Mirrors - does what all the best remakes do: It completely abandons the original.
“We didn’t know anything about the Korean movie,” Aja explains “We read the script and we didn’t connect at all with the story or the scares. But there was something… that simple idea of using the mirrors. We all have relationships with mirrors. Some people are obsessed with their image, some cannot stand their image. Some religions believe that you have to cover all the mirrors when someone dies so their soul doesn’t become trapped on the other side. These are universal concepts that are waiting to be explored. We looked at the Korean movie and besides the opening and a couple of scenes; we didn’t connect with it either. It wasn’t very interesting. We convinced [New Regency] to let us throw away the script, not use the Korean movie, and use our own story based on the concept of the mirrors. So basically it’s not a remake.”
After years of torturing terrorists for CTU, Kiefer Sutherland has been demoted to security guard status, taking the unappealing job as night-watchmen of an abandoned department store in New York City. The building’s edifice has been ravaged by fires that claimed the lives of dozens of people and Sutherland’s boss gives him the grand tour of his creepy new office. Imagine a Macy’s in Silent Hill.
“I really wanted for a long time to explore the other side of the genre,” says Aja, “If The Hills Have Eyes, High Tension, and P2 represent that kind’ve survival/slasher movie, the other side would be the supernatural. The Shining for me is a great example of a supernatural movie that also deals with very shocking violence that punches you in the face.”
We’re treated to the opening scene of Mirrors, where the building’s previous security guard (Josh Cole) flees on foot through the subways from an unseen force. Aja’s eye-popping visuals are instantly recognizable as the camera bolts through every corner of the underground tunnels. Eventually the guard encounters a bathroom mirror and meets a nasty end with an incredibly graphic throat slash – the only thing carried over from the original film.
Aja skips ahead to one of the early ghost encounters. It’s late-night at the department store and high-pitched screams suddenly echo through the building. Kiefer yells his signature “Dammit! ” and grabs a flashlight, bolting from room-to-room in search of the cries. Tracing the screams to an empty dressing room, Sutherland catches the reflection of an extended hand in a nearby mirror. He hauls the mirror over to the stall and looks at the full gruesome image: A half-naked woman writhes and screams on the floor. Her body smokes as her face and breasts crack and peel away from her body. This is, of course only a sample of the hell unleashed upon Sutherland’s character. “He basically starts with a breakdown and he’s trying to get back on his feet,” Aja explains ” He’s going to refuse what the mirrors are requesting from him and some bad things are going to happen to his family.”
With that, Aja shows us one such scene. The clip is too spoiler-heavy to report, but even in its unfinished stage, it’s one of the single most insane gore effects to hit the screen in a very long time. The lights go up and the entire editing room cheers. To our shock, Aja tells us that Mirrors just escaped through the MPAA with an R-rating. “I’m still in shock of what they let us do. We have the movie we want. I don’t think I even have enough footage to do an Unrated one.”
What about the studio? Aja insists that there were struggles, but that they were kept to a minimum. “We had some fights,” he recounts, “There’s a very huge twisted action-packed finale. The studio wanted to keep it more like the Sixth Sense with a big twist at the end. We fought against that. They didn’t want to go as far as we wanted to with the end, so we had to test the movie with two different cuts. The numbers were like night and day and we got the victory.”
Of course, the director insists that having a huge A-list star on his side was a huge plus. “Kiefer helped us a lot. He’s not just taking any movie because he’s so overwhelmed by 24 every year. He fell in love with the script and was always on our side.” And if Aja ever loses creative control, there’s always his native country to fall back on. “That’s a great argument that we have,” he laughs “When things get ugly, we say ‘You know what? We can leave, you finish the movie. We’ll go back to France and will have final cut on our movies.’”
After watching a handful of scenes, its clear that Mirrors is the antidote to every watered-down remake we’ve had to endure over the years. In the end, Aja’s words ring true: His version exists as its own entity, while easily surpassing the original film.
The young director hopes to do the same with his remake of Pirahna which prepares to roll before cameras in glorious 3-D. “We received the script five years ago with the idea of an earthquake under a lake releasing prehistoric piranha that hit some stupid drunk kids during spring break. That was really fun! We couldn’t do that movie because of The Hills Have Eyes, but right after the script came back around to us with a different draft, another movie. We went to the Weinsteins and said, ‘We really liked the previous draft which you guys never read.’ So we convinced them to take the spring break plot and do whatever we wanted to do with it.” As with Mirrors, Aja insists that this film isn’t a remake either. “There is not one thing similar to the Joe Dante movie. It’s completely different. It’s the blue-print of a rollercoaster!”
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