There is a modern brand of suspense film that prides itself in doing nothing more than keeping the viewer confused and second-guessing the plot from beginning to end. This is the kind of film whose success depends almost entirely on visual style and clever twists and turns. Some of the best films of the past couple of decades have fallen in this category: Blood Simple, House of Games and Memento” are brilliant examples of neo-noir and some might add The Usual Suspects and a few others to the list. Hall of Mirrors aims for this territory and most closely follows House of Games in its deadly con-upon-a-con structure.
Compulsive gambler Dylan (Eric Johnson) begins the movie with a bad luck streak at a blackjack table. He’s grumpy as hell, and not without reason: We find that he owes a ruthless bookie a boatload of money and the guy wants it… well, yesterday. Or else. Dylan calls on his ex (who left him because of his gambling) and best friend to beg for help but is told by both that his help ran out long ago. His friend even suggests getting psychological help. Which will keep the goons off his back, right?
Well, Dylan does what most people would do in this situation: He decides to get drunk. Instead, he accidentally picks up a beautiful young woman named Mara and goes home with her. Still, his life seems to continue on its downward spiral until he gets a mysterious phone call: a man tells him that he knows all about Dylan’s dilemma and has a solution. All he needs to do is produce $10,000 in cash and he will have $100,000 later that day with no strings attached.
This is where I stop telling you the plot because this is where the cons and mind games begin in earnest. If you thought Dylan was in bad shape before he got that phone call, you ain’t seen nothing yet. He finds himself in a tortuous nightmare loop that just keeps getting darker and darker as he tries to disentangle himself…
Okay, so is the movie successful? Mostly, yes. Dylan is not a sympathetic guy, but when things go from bad to worse to unbelievably worse, you can’t help but feel sorry for the jackass anyway. Eric Johnson does a serviceable job as a desperate creep with some terrific character flaws, and Julie Arebalo is an engagingly noir-ish femme fatale. Some of the supporting performances are just a cut or two above local repertory theater, but mostly they aren’t too bad. Before I get to the visual style I should add that the screenplay is mostly clever, but at times a plot hole hater like me could throw a fit or two. Without spoiling anything, let’s just say that there are moments when you think, "Why would they go to THAT much trouble?" or "What kind of idiot would fall for THAT?" I got over it, though.
Production values: I mentioned other classics of twisty, turny neo-noir, and Hall of Mirrors aims for those heights. It doesn’t quite make it, but with good reason: While low budgets are common with this type of film, none of them approach what director Brad Osborne and his associates produced this film for. I almost can’t believe what I’m typing but the quoted budget here is… less than five thousand dollars. Five thousand. Five with three (3) zeroes. This is probably less than the daily catering budget on a typical "low budget" film. How the hell can this be done? Digital video, of course. Nevertheless, most of the movie has the rich look of film and you would never know it was video if I hadn’t told you. Sorry about that. However… there are moments where the sound and feel of the movie drops into our vacation at Sea World quality, and some of the locations and sets betray the lack of funds. This doesn’t really happen often, but it is enough to briefly remind you that you’re watching a movie that wouldn’t max out your Visa card.
This is turning into a novel, so I’ll leave you with this: Hall of Mirrors won’t change your life, but it is worth seeing if you like movies that screw with your head once in a while. I’m amazed that the damned thing was even finished, and the fact that it turns out to be even watchable is nothing short of a miracle. And… it’s more honest and entertaining than most big studios’ major releases. If there’s any justice in the world, Hall of Mirrors should be Brad Osborne’s ticket to the big time. Give this guy a couple million, and he could make a true classic. I would bet on it.