Review: “MirrorMask”

This weekend’s Netflix selection was MirrorMask.  As you can see from the sidebar, Neil Gaiman is one of my favorite writers (love American Gods, love Stardust, love Neverwhere), so I was quite looking forward to this film.  After seeing it, I would characterize it as Labyrinth (the movie) meets “Obsidian” (the video game) with a dash of Legend, filtered through an acid trip.

MirrorMask follows the adventures of Helena, who awakens in the middle of the night to find herself in a parallel world where everyone wears a mask, and a “City of Light” is threatened by shadows from the neighboring “City of Darkness”.  After being mistaken for a pilfering Princess, Helena ends up volunteering to find a stolen charm (which nobody has ever seen) to restore the balance between light and darkness.  Her quest is threatened by various odd-looking shadows, hungry human-faced kitties, and a sidekick named Valentine who seems to be even more useless than Hoggle of Labyrinth fame.

The film has a distinct and arresting visual style, but (unusually for Gaiman) the plot is rather slow and muddled, and at some point the weird-looking creatures and settings became a distraction.  Also, the fact that most of the secondary characters are saddled with masks (and relatively inane dialog; just about everything out of Valentine’s mouth is of the “we’re doomed” or “this is hopeless” variety) made it difficult to empathize with them.  (Perhaps it was more the dialog than the masks, because I didn’t have any trouble at all empathizing with Hud, the fellow behind the camera in Cloverfield, who almost never appeared on-screen.)  Anyway, despite these issues, MirrorMask still held my attention for much of its running time; even Gaiman’s throwaway ideas are often better than the central conceits of other writers’ work.  In particular, this film boasts the creepiest version of the old song “Close To You” that I’ve ever seen or heard.

MirrorMask put my wife to sleep in about an hour and a half, which isn’t bad; I think it was the visuals that kept her awake that long.  At one point, she remarked that it looked like a video game (see “Obsidian”, above).  Labyrinth is one of her favorite films, though, so MirrorMask didn’t quite measure up.  (When I told her it to wake up because MirrorMask was almost over, she said, “It should’ve been over fifteen minutes ago.”)

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