The money scene in "Mirrors" - the one the gore morons will lap up while the rest of us cringe in appalled disbelief - involves the hero's sister ripping her own jaw off until it flops obscenely beneath her face, spurting blood everywhere. But wait, there's more! The character has just hopped into the bathtub, so the carnage has been preceded by the sexual thrill of watching a hot Hollywood blonde disrobe. It's an old trick, this sex-and-death equation, but rarely deployed with such Pavlovian cynicism. If you find yourself aroused, I think a bell goes off in a lab somewhere.
The rest of the movie isn't quite as ugly, but it's still no prize. A remake of a 2003 Korean film, "Mirrors" is directed by Alexandre Aja, a French enfant terrible who makes torture porn with the frisson of art. (His "High Tension" and "The Hills Have Eyes" remake were big hits with horror cognoscenti and other perpetual adolescents.) He knows where to point the camera, but he still hasn't figured out why.
Kiefer Sutherland, casting about for gainful employment between bouts of saving the world on "24," plays Ben Carson, a troubled ex-New York City detective who takes a job as a night security guard at a burned-out department store. A malevolent presence soon reveals itself on the other side of the building's many mirrors. Worst-case scenario: Your own reflection can kill you.
That's a tiny bit scarier than the homicidal tree-pollen in the recent "The Happening," and it at least provides more opportunities for trendy bloodletting. Ben scampers around trying to solve the mystery of the haunted mirrors while keeping his sister (Amy Smart), estranged wife (Paula Patton), and two children (Cameron Boyce and Erica Gluck) from harm. The movie works up effective suspense for a while - Aja is much better with atmosphere than content - but that bathtub scene permanently queers the tone, and the explanation, when it finally comes, is a howler.
At nearly two hours, "Mirrors" is overlong for a summer horror toss-off, and the movie's three or four false endings make it seem even more of a haul. Or maybe it's the underwritten stupidity of everyone involved that grates on the nerves. At one point we get a glimpse of a car's side mirror with the usual warning, "Caution: Objects may be closer than they appear." "Mirrors" should come with one that reads, Caution: Characters are exactly as dumb as they look.