“The young man stepped into the hall of mirrors where he discovered a reflection of himself Even the greatest stars discover themselves in the looking glass.” The shining star in question here is director Andrew Getty of the famous Getty dynasty; oil heir and philanthropist as well as one time film director. They say everyone has a film within them but not many have the funds to realise such an expensive undertaking; this is something that I am guessing Getty had no real shortage of and it was something that he undertook as a labour of love which seems to have taken on a strange story all of its very own. Getty started making this in 2002 and it was apparently completed six years later. However it was hampered by all manner of problems with the actors and crew including lawsuits and when finished the director not happy with the edit began tinkering and trying to get things right. Watching this it is pretty evident to me that he did not succeed and although not wanting to speak ill of the dead (Getty died of an ulcer complicated by drug use in 2015), this really is a bit of a confusing mess.
When I read about this, it struck mainly as a tale about a haunted mirror and naturally in my head I had thoughts of other films such as Ulli Lommel’s video nasty The Bogeyman (1980) right through to Alexandra Aja’s Mirrors (2008) and Mike Flanagan’s Oculus (2013). The young man stepping into the looking glass here is Dennis (Frederick Koehler) who is obviously a rather special and gifted person suffering from mental illness and being looked after by his brother John (Sean Patrick Flanery). John has undisclosed problems of his own, a girlfriend who wants to tie the knot but is not especially keen to live with Dennis among them. When we first meet Dennis it is in the midst of a very surreal dream and it is rather sumptuously displayed on the screen in an incredibly trippy fashion (kind of like something out of a Ray Bradbury carnival). Dennis is menaced by these night-time terrors including one of a blackened demon played by iconic horror Michael Berryman of The Hills Have Eyes and Deadly Blessing notoriety. He is an imposing figure and bound to put the willies up anyone. Things are exasperated when John brings a mirror home under the context of making the house more presentable in view of selling it. The demon manifests through the mirror which apparently had been found in a cellar locked up since prohibition but one that had unveiled itself previously in Dennis dream-state. Naturally Dennis is freaked out and things are about to go from bad to worse.
As a viewer it is a bit difficult at first to determine what is happening in real life and what is a dream. I guess A Nightmare On Elm Street could have been a bit of an inspiration here and with this and the fact that Berryman is also on board I would not be surprised in the slightest if Getty was a fan of the works of Wes Craven in general. A bargain is made between the demon and Dennis and it spurs him onto killing animals at first, naturally that is not enough for the demon and plagued by everything going on this quickly turns to humans and threatens the people close to Dennis and the ones he loves. Don’t worry about the animal abuse, the effects are pretty dire here and the worst example has to go to a dummy of Dennis’s unwitting love interest who is mowed down in a vehicular incident that is going to have you cringing.
The film may have pulled things off better if it had played itself out as a simple supernatural story but it tries to get clever with back-stories and loose ends being played out that make little sense. The main narrative is driven by inner dialogue from Dennis and whether Getty was under a psychiatrist or not (hell he was rich its America so let’s take that for granted) it’s as though he has tried to bring psychobabble from his sessions into the stories framework and further bewilder with that. Despite a strong cast (we have players from series such as Lost, Dexter, CSI, American Horror Story and films such as The Boondock Saints, Starship Troopers, and ahem Night Of The Living Dead 3D) often they seem to be sleepwalking and as confused about their parts as we are. One has to wonder about these lawsuits and how they affected things. On the plus side Koehler who I actually recognised from excellent prison drama Oz is convincing as mentally ill person pushed into insanity and beyond. I think this needed a star for it to get any attention from horror fans and obviously Berryman is the trump card here. You can’t help watching this and thinking he was picked up to do all his parts as quickly as possible, took his cheque and got the hell out of dodge though. As things move towards the end, attempting to tie up loose ends and bring about an intense finale, the director again, as he did at the start, goes for style over substance and you just can’t help but thinking that he is trying to be too clever and wondering what the film might have looked like if he had left it alone in 2008 and got it out then, as it was originally conceived under the title of The Storyteller?