In the Editing Room: Alexandre Aja’s Mirrors


Director talks, scenes revealed, first stills

Three coffees. Black. These French guys don’t f**k around. But they’re on their last leg of editing and a jolt of jet fuel is what they need to lock picture before embarking for Prague where the next phase of post-production on their latest film begins. This writer is sitting in the editing room of Mirrors, Alexandre Aja’s second U.S. feature. He’s pumping two fists in the air in victory. Shaggy strands of dirty blonde hair falling into his eyes, a big grin parting a bearded face.

“We just finished our fight with the MPAA so we have a happy smile,” he proclaims. We see that. The smile, that is. His most recent throwdown with the censors apparently didn’t get as dirty as his time on Fox’s 2006 remake The Hills Have Eyes. In fact, “I’m still in shock of what they let us keep. We made the movie we wanted and I won’t even have enough footage for an unrated cut [on DVD].” (Don’t be so sure lil’ Alex. The studio always finds a way to offer something new to the DVD consumer; even if every violent gag in the film survived intact only a few trims of excised dialogue are all that’s needed to promote a re-packaged “director’s cut.”)

Aja’s good cheer is echoed here by his creative partner in onscreen brutality, Grégory Levasseur, and editor – who is often credited simply by the name Baxter. Astute individuals enjoying the recent French horror movement have recognized Baxter’s place on High Tension, Aja’s aforementioned Hills redux and the splat-tastic Inside. We’re all waiting on coffee to arrive before previewing three select scenes from Mirrors and in the downtime the three theorize how they’ve managed to, well, get away with murder so to speak.

Aja suspects the MPAA shows a modicum of leniency when it comes to supernatural fare citing The Grudge, The Eye, The Sixth Sense and One Missed Call as “safe” examples. “It’s very easy to do a PG-13 supernatural movie. It’s obvious because you’re dealing with entities and there is no blood, no violence, but that’s exactly the opposite of what we wanted to make.”

Make no doubt about it, Mirrors is a hard R-rating. “I definitely think the supernatural thing is helping us out.” Plus, we add, there doesn’t appear to be any signs of rape-by-mountain-dwelling-mutants in this film.

“No, no rape this time, which is a good thing,” Levasseur chimes in which Aja follows with, “We do have a reflection of a mother cutting the throat of her 12-year-old little girl and that hasn’t been a problem [with the MPAA] either.” Aja says this matter-of-factly, but that devilish grin returns.

Baxter spins in his seat to face his AVID’s keyboard and fires up the first scene of the movie – an introductory scare beat evoking tone, style and the level of violence one can expect. Maxime Alexandre’s forbidding photography is on display, pitching Aja’s film into a contrasty style that’s somewhere between High Tension and The Hills Have Eyes. It’s apparent Maxime is enjoying the urban setting within which Mirrors is set.

The sequence finds a security guard (actor Josh Cole) running for his life through a channel in New York’s subway system. Whatever he’s fleeing from, it’s not doing a very good job of catching up. The guard tries every avenue of escape to no avail. All doors and gates appear to be locked. He breaks into a transit employee locker room. Even the window he finds here is bricked up.

“Oh, f**k,” he whimpers. Suddenly the lockers behind him slowly open, moving into position as to focus the tiny mirrors hanging on the doors within on the guard. He’s staring at multiple reflections of his weary, terrified face. On the wall directly before him, past the lockers, a giant mirror, it’s surface fracturing slowly. He runs to it, apologizing to no one, and spits on a nearby rag, attempting to clean the glass with it – an act of humbled veneration. A shard of glass falls to the floor. The guard bends to retrieve it, stands upright.

Then his reflection holds the shard to his throat and cuts. In the real world, a gaping wound opens of its own accord across the guard’s neck, blood spraying the mirror and his reflection which apparently holds an inexplicable power of its own. The guard drops to the floor, yet his reflection remains standing. Leering. Roll opening credits.

Baxter pauses the film.

“We were really lucky on The Hills Have Eyes because we had full control thanks to Wes [Craven,] giving us final cut and let us do the movie we wanted to make,” Aja says. “Then, because of the success of that film, we had final cut on P2 and made the movie we wanted to make as producers, so when we arrived at Mirrors we were really scared because it was Fox and New Regency – it’s bigger budget, it’s twice the budget of Hills and we have a big star.”

That would be Kiefer Sutherland, here taking a break from Jack Bauer to play Ben Carson a disgraced NYPD cop living with his sister (Amy Smart) and working as a security guard in a once-revered-now-derelict department store (the Mayflower) gutted by a terrible fire. It’s there that he runs into trouble with a sinister force lurking within the mirrors.

“After The Hills Have Eyes we had the script for P2 finished and we were thinking about what to do next,” Aja explains of his film’s origins. “I really wanted to explore the other side of the genre. If my previous films represented the realistic, graphic, survival, slasher movie, the other side would be the supernatural. The story gets different. My favorite movie is The Shining, it’s a great example of the supernatural with shocking violence that punches you in the face.”

Aja uses this moment to set the record straight about persistent online rumors stressing that his film is a remake of the South Korean horror film Into the Mirror. While that might have been the case at one time, he says it is not now. When New Regency approached Aja to helm a remake of Kim Seong-ho’s 2003 film, he gave the script a read and, “didn’t connect with it at all – with the character, the story, the scares,” he frankly admits. “There was something about using the mirrors… In talking about the script, [Levasseur and I] were realizing: How many times a day does a man or woman look at themselves in a mirror? Water, reflections, glass buildings, anything. It’s a lot. We all have a relationship with mirrors, some are obsessed with their image, some cannot stand their image. In some religions there is a belief that you have to cover all of the mirrors when someone dies because you don’t want the soul to be trapped on the other side.”

Equipped with the mirrors theme as a launching point, Aja and Levasseur jettisoned New Regency’s remake script and opted to create an entirely original story. A coup for Aja as he prefers to helm projects he writes anyway. “I don’t see it any other way, to picture the movie through the line of the script. If you don’t do that preparation of the material…I don’t know how you can take someone’s material and say, ‘Okay, I want to shoot this.’ Writing is so fun.”

Aja plays the next two scenes. In one, Sutherland is spooked, wandering through the baroque Mayflower interior searching for the source of a woman’s incessant screams echoing through the charred department store. They lead Sutherland into a changing room where he spies, in a mirror’s reflection, an agonized, crispy gal writing on the floor behind him. He spins around to face her…but she’s not there. Yet her pained self remains in the mirror.

“This is still rough,” Aja interjects. “In the final version of the film her skin will be bubbling and melting.”

I inquire about the building that serves as the Mayflower Department Store. Aja tells me principal photography took place from May to June of 2007 with a few pickup shots that had to occur later on to accommodate Sutherland’s busy television schedule. That said, production moved from New York City to Los Angeles to Bucharest, where many of the interiors were executed and the location for the Mayflower was discovered. “Nicolae Ceauşescu [during the revolution there] didn’t finish the megalomaniac town he was building. So basically, you go to Bucharest and you find these huge buildings completely abandoned. The kind of set you can’t build on a stage, it’s way too big. We knew that place existed so we took it over and re-dressed the inside. We used it as a real location. You could walk in the Mayflower on all the different levels, underground, we used some parts as a soundstage for other scenes.” It should be noted Aja reunited with production designer Joseph Nemec (The Hills Have Eyes) for the film.

Scene number three, the final one, is so spoiler-ridden my lips have to be sealed. However, when its gory payoff comes to an end, I contained myself from standing on my feet to applaud. A nerd-like, “That was incredible!” had to do.

“Everything you’ve seen in the mirrors here is done with what we call a double-pass,” Aja says. “You shoot the foreground and then you shoot what’s happening in the mirror – then you composite the two together. It’s simple, but a nightmare to adjust.”

The director recognizes, with each project, he’s making the experience more and more difficult on himself. “On Hills it was so cool on paper to go in the desert and shoot the movie for so long, then you realize it’s 120-degrees every day with sandstorms. [It was difficult in] the parking garage on P2. Here on paper, dealing with mirrors was great but then you find yourself on set and you have to fight the reflections where ever you go. Nothing is invisible. We have a set later in the film that is a mirror room and there are mirrors everywhere.” This required plenty of on-set ingenuity that didn’t fully utilize the assistance of CGI. “When you have mirrors everywhere, one reflection can be multiplied by infinity, so you cannot erase that in CGI. We had to work with a lot of two-way mirrors.”

With editing nearly behind him, Aja is now looking forward to the scoring process. Javier Navarrete (Pan’s Labyrinth) is currently writing the music.

Mirrors has already slogged through the tedious testing process twice now, once with a studio-suggested ending, a second time with Aja’s original ending. The latter tested higher further cementing what the director is calling another terrific filmmaking experience here in the States. Having contributed to the horror remake boom himself, it’s refreshing to see Aja going to great lengths to deliver something original before he swims off on another redux requiring his attention – Piranha 3-D (details).

Mirrors opens in theaters on August 15th. For hi-res versions of the images you see in this article, click here.

Source: Ryan Rotten