When you look in the mirror, you don’t really ever see yourself as other people see you, you see the image reversed, a reflection. Despite “mirror image” being a synonym for a replica or a doppelgänger, a real mirror image isn’t quite the same as the reality. Now imagine if the person you saw in the mirror was more confident and assertive than yourself. And what if the “mirror” you swapped places with the “real” you and took over your life? Assaf Bernstein’s new horror film ‘Look Away’ asks that very question, with mixed results.
Maria (India Eisley) is the teenager who trades places with her mirror image through a narcissistic kiss on the lips. She goes from an awkward, alienated loner to a sassy, vindictive über bitch and soon starts talking about hard-ons and being snide about her dad’s infidelities. Which is all fine, until things get far more sinister and the full weight of Airam’s (see what they did there?) vengeance is unleashed.
The bullying of Maria is hardly on ‘Carrie’ levels, and there doesn’t seem to be any concrete reason why she is treated with apathy at best and absolute contempt at worst. Her dad Dan (Jason Isaacs) seems to be the main source of her issues. An arrogant plastic surgeon, adulterer and rampant misogynist, he sends Maria away to put on make-up when she comes down to breakfast looking tired and believes that giving her the benefit of his expertise with some generous surgical enhancements will solve all her problems. The injustice of reason-less dislike from the people around her could have been an interesting twist, but this unfortunately comes across as a lack of characterisation.
Oscar-winning actress Mira Sorvino is underused as Maria’s depressive mother Amy, a husk of a person, slowly losing her identity and self-esteem from Dan’s impassivity and blatant disloyalty. The scenes between mother and daughter are the film’s most emotionally fecund, with a willingness to empathise on Amy’s part being met with total indifference from Maria. Amy is a different kind of mirror image for Maria, a pathetic future self with only banal self-help aphorisms too offer in the way of advice.
This is Israeli writer and director Bernstein’s first feature-length English film, and the dialogue perhaps suffers for this. Maria’s first few conversations with Airam in the mirror don’t get much more exciting than the standard horror interrogatives of “Who are you?” and “What do you want from me?” The nastiness and verbal abuse is never really inventive, while visually the film is very shiny and flat, dulling the film emotionally and psychologically.
The doppelgänger is making a mini comeback in horror at the moment. Jordan Peele’s ‘Us’ has a family terrorised by their doubles, while ‘Cam’ follows a webcam girl whose replica replaces her online and steals her following. ‘Cam’ also asks questions about feminine self-image and the unreasonable expectations society still has concerning young women, but does it in a more claustrophobic, internalised way. ‘Look Away’ takes more glee in the revenge it metes out on the people who have bullied and harassed Maria, and this is where it is at its best. The ‘Final Destination’-style ‘accidental’ death of one character is a highlight in a film that could have been a satirical dissection of unfair societal standards in the vein of ‘Raw’, but unfortunately it’s just not quite well-done enough.