Directors – Xu Razer & Brian Shotwell, Screenplay/Photography – Brian Shotwell, Music – Jeremiah Saint & Brian Shotwell. Production Company – Elevation 4 Entertainment/Dark Castle Productions
Brian Shotwell (Max Emerson), Xu Razer (Vince), Jeremiah Saint (The Killer), Josette Pacino (Ramona), Ashley Hazel (Sandra)
Max Emerson is a hotshot recording company executive in Palm Springs who treats everybody like dirt. He comes around at home in the morning with no memory of what happened the night before. Max then receives a taunting phone call from a mystery person who claims that he knows Max murdered someone the night before and shows him where to find a bloodied shirt that is evidence. The mystery caller gives Max forty-eight hours to solve the mystery about what happened before they go to the police. As Max tries to piece together clues, he also becomes aware that he may be suffering from serious mental illness and Multiple Personality Disorder.
I first encountered Brian Shotwell (aka Brian Delizereaux and Ryken Zane) and Xu Razer (real name Dan Gruenberg) after they sent me a copy of their low budget self-produced film Enemy Mind (2010). I was impressed by this as they had made a good, solid and well written science-fiction effort with minimal resources. The duo live in Palm Springs and had previously worked together on another science-fiction film Defcon 2012 (2010). House of Mirrors is their most recent effort where they take on the director’s chair between them, as well as play the lead roles. The two subsequently went onto make Dark Ghost/Exhibit X (2012).
With House of Mirrors, Brian Shotwell and Xu Razer venture away from science-fiction into creating a psychological thriller. The plot setup is a variant on the missing memory puzzle of Christopher Nolan’s Memento (2000). Perhaps what we have here comes closer to the South Korean classic Oldboy (2003) where a man wakes up and faces a mysterious stranger taunting him about a puzzle concerning elements of his own life that he must piece together in order to make sense of the missing memories. You could even make comparison to something like Dude, Where’s My Car? (2000), which, albeit more comically, had two heroes waking up after a bender the night before to find that all manner of wild and crazy things had happened that they don’t remember.
House of Mirrors certainly seems much more professionally polished in the cinematography and editing departments than Brian Shotwell and Xu Razer’s earlier work. That said, I also ended up disappointed with it. It follows the thriller form – however, with a thriller like this, you keep expecting it to produce torturous whiplash plot twists and put the screws on the central character. What we instead get is a more prosaic series of scenes as Brian Shotwell goes from person to person seeking answers. Directorially, the film keeps trying to create urgency with discordant editing or cuts away to not terribly exciting scenes of people dancing in a club and a Marilyn Manson-lookalike character (Jeremiah Saint) making taunts. There seem a good many distracting effects added during these scenes designed to create false tension – sinister music and sound effects on the soundtrack, shots designed to suggest something brooding inside the house – when in fact each of these scenes holds no tension on their own from a dramatic standpoint. You feel that House of Mirrors would have worked far more effectively without this constant artificial effect building and more in the way of contortions in the story department.
Both Brian Shotwell and Xu Razer play reasonably well in their respective roles – Shotwell with a sweaty nervousness and ruthless ambitiousness that conveys the archetypical amoral character who is heading for a redemption arc, while Razer plays the bodyguard with a sleepy slowness that contrarily reveals the character as having more genteel than you expect. On the other hand, Jeremiah Saint plays in a fey, over-the-top way where he does all his acting with his hands that contrarily distracts from any threat the character has. The film’s one piece of unusual stunt casting is Josette Pacino, Al Pacino’s sister, a former teacher who had no previous acting experience, who plays the role of Brian Shotwell’s psychologist. (As a result, the film’s poster goes out with the deliberately misleading highlighting of the name Pacino in big bold caps that are even bigger than the film’s title).
The story eventually reaches an overly convoluted explanation about what is going on. Layered throughout have been a number of red herring elements involving mental illness, amnesia, Multiple Personality Disorder and twin brothers, although none of these are wielded in a way that screws with your expectations and pulls the carpet out from underneath. [PLOT SPOILERS]. The eventual revelation about identical twins who never knew it, amnesia confusion and blackmail schemes seems excessively complicated and never more than cliche tropes that have been slung together. The downside of this also makes the denouement of the film come out resembling the same one offered up in the Lindsay Lohan flop I Know Who Killed Me (2007).