Mirror Mirror (1990)

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three star

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Every now and then a great celebrity name like a Rip Torn or a Royalty Hightower will jump out at you as a kind of artform unto itself, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered a name quite like Rainbow Harvest before. Ms. Harvest was an actress & a public figure for a brief stretch in the early 90s, making something of a career out of vaguely resembling Lydia Deetz from Beetlejuice. At least, that’s the most I can gather from Google Image searches & her lead role in the 1990 horror cheapie Mirror Mirror. In a sea of 90s-era pastel prairie dresses & loose, faded blue jeans, Rainbow Harvest stands out vividly as a goth teen who lives every day like it’s Halloween. I can’t say there’s anything particularly exceptional about her performance in Mirror Mirror, but it is exceedingly difficult to take your eyes off her and her name alone ensures you’ll never forget who she is.

If there’s anything especially interesting about Mirror Mirror‘s narrative it’s that it telegraphs the basic elements of two superior horror movies that would follow years after its arrival: Oculus & The Craft. A goth teen arrives in a new town with a dead dad and an excess of angst. Feeling like a total outsider, she finds solace in newfound friends that grant her dangerous witchcraft powers that allow her to enact petty revenge on her bullies. Where Mirror Mirror deviates from The Craft is that this goth teen’s black magic friendships are with an evil antique mirror and the demon who lives inside it, recalling the basic premise of Oculus. Of course, our goth girl antihero’s new powers backfire and her casual evocation of the mirror demon snowballs in a dangerous, deadly way. The only thing that subverts what you might expect from this Oculus vs. The Craft plot mashup is a supernatural twist ending that acts as a last minute rug pull. I guess there’s also a slight novelty to the outsider teen being bullied actually being the real monster in a story like this, but teen girls are punished for transgressing outside the bounds of their limited agency all the time in film, so that aspect ultimately feels like par for the course.

Mirror Mirror is a decidedly minor work despite those narrative prototypes for better horror films to follow, but it’s charming enough in its smaller details to stand out as an entertaining trifle. The very idea of dark mirror realm magic has a dream logic charm to it that leads to some inventive teen bully kills. As the mirror oozes blood & covers itself with flies, its victims similarly bleed and swat away pests. There are plenty of horror films where girls are killed in showers, but this is the first I’ve seen where girls are killed by a shower, not to mention at the hands of an off-screen mirror demon. Speaking of the demon, my favorite scene in Mirror Mirror is a ludicrous moment if morbid teen narcissism where Rainbow Harvest makes out with her own reflection, Neon Demon style, and the devil’s hand extends from behind the glass to feel her up. It’s wildly over-the-top stuff the film could’ve used more of. Mirror Mirror also could’ve used more of actors like Karen Black (extending her horror resume beyond titles like Trilogy of Terror, Burnt Offerings, and Invaders from Mars & curiously trying on a new wig every few scenes) & Steven Tobolowsky (a That Guy! type most recognizable from his insurance salesman role in Groundhog Day) to add an air of legitimacy to what often feels like straight-to-VHS schlock.

I still found the movie enjoyable overall, though. It’s at least 20 minutes overlong for what it accomplishes, but it boasts enough inventive kills, 90s fashion quirks, and trippy plot twists in its goth girl/antique mirror buddy picture premise to remain a delight. I’d be a liar, though, if I didn’t admit that the most memorable aspect of Mirror Mirror was the real-life name of its star. Rainbow Harvest will likely stick with me as a celebrity for far longer than anything she actually did in-character. It’s the kind of name that is a work of art all on its own.

-Brandon Ledet

Mirror Mirror (2012)

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onehalfstar

How many times do you allow a filmmaker to burn you before you stop coming back for more? Usually I’d allow a fairly long leash in these situations, but I have a feeling Tarsem Singh is about to really test my patience. Singh’s first feature, The Cell, is a fairly decent thriller that’s stuck with me over the years due to its intense, dream-logic visuals (a knack the director undoubtedly picked up from his music video/advertisement days). It was The Cell‘s follow-up, The Fall, that affords him so much patience form me as an audience. Easily one of the most gorgeous films I’ve ever seen in a theater, The Fall is a fantastic, visually overwhelming movie about the very nature of storytelling as an artform, a work that nearly outdoes the great Terry Gilliam at his own game. I can’t say enough hyperbolically great thing about The Fall, which makes it all the more confusing why not any one of the three Tarsem Singh features that have followed have piqued my interest. Somehow, each follow-up looked even blander than the last and I didn’t want to ruin the high note The Fall left me soaring on.

I recently ruined all that goodwill by checking in on Tarsem Singh’s most high profile work to date. When considered in the abstract, a big budget retelling of a classic Grimms’ tale would be a perfect follow-up to the grandiose fantasy dreamscape of The Fall, but Singh does so little to justify that optimism here. I’m honestly not convinced that he hasn’t been murdered & replaced by an imposter, possibly some kind of artificial intelligence from the future or an ancient human-impersonating monster. Mirror Mirror is Tarsem operating in the world of fairy tales (Snow White, for those somehow unaware), but it’s a dull, passionless work that could’ve been handled by any number of journeymen with a Hollywood-sized checkbook. Indeed, there are echoes of the film’s contemporaries like Maleficent and Snow White & The Huntsmen at work in Mirror Mirror, but I’d argue that even those far-from-prestigious comparison points far outshine this lifeless exercise. They’re at least occasionally fun. Even this film’s out-of-nowhere Bollywood song & dance ending was somehow more painful than delightful.

I’m not sure how closely Mirror Mirror follows the original Grimms’ tale, but I am sure that I don’t care to investigate. In this version (subversion?) Snow White carries a sword and saves her own ass from peril, which is presented as a big whoop, but instead bores to the point of cruelty. If I’m remembering correctly, I’ve seen a swordfighting, swashbuckling Snow White onscreen before on the impossibly cheesy ABC show Once Upon a Time and even they did a better a job of keeping my eyes open than this drag. I guess the film gets certain brownie points for at least attempting to subvert the damsel in distress dynamic of many (bastardized) fairy tales, but it does so with such a half-hearted non-effort that it’s hard to drum up any genuine enthusiasm for the content.

The true story of this film is the long list of suffering actors practically checking their watches as the running time slowly bleeds out. Nathan Lane looks especially pained in his boredom and, despite thanklessly giving the same endless charm he brought to his roles in The Social Network & The Man from U.N.C.L.E.,  Armie Hammer does little to lighten the mood. The most embarrassing turn of all comes from Julia Roberts, however, who fully commits to her role as the evil queen/witch, but fails miserably. Roberts toothlessly gums the scenery when the movie demands that she devour it. An over the top villain might’ve saved Mirror Mirror from total devastation but Roberts simply isn’t up for it & watching her try is admittedly a little pathetic.

I guess if I were to say one nice thing about Mirror Mirror I could point to its lavish costumes, which likely deserved the Academy Award they took home in 2013. As the costuming in The Fall was similarly striking, this one detail could maybe serve as a glimmer of hope that Tarsem Singh has at least one more decent movie buried deep within him somewhere, depending on how closely you want to look. Costume design is only one small piece in the larger, complex filmmaking puzzle, though, and I doubt the other Singh films I’m going to catch up with despite myself are going to fare much better, brilliant costume design or no. There honestly isn’t much hope left out there.

-Brandon Ledet