Thursday, March 09, 2006


Cast: Stephanie Leonidas, Gina McKee, Rob Brydon
Director: Dave McKean

I caught Mirrormask as part of the Glasgow Film Festival, shown a week before it opened across the UK. Where it has been showing on general, if limited, release for the last week. Though next week's local cinema listings have it down to one mid-day showing a day, with the film no doubt likely to disappear the week after. Though as is so often the case now, the DVD is due for imminent release. Personally, especially with something as visually dense as Mirrormask, I prefer to catch films in the cinema where possible.

Mirrormask is the directorial debut of Dave McKean - the artist of all the Sandman comic covers, as well as numerous other books and CDs. He really developed and established a style that has become often imitated in the years since. Over those years, McKean has always worked with the writer Neil Gaiman - the author the Sandman comics, the Neverwhere TV series and novels like American Gods and Anansi Boys. Mirrormask is the latest collaboration between the two, the pair have written the piece, with Gaiman doing the final scripting/plot breakdown, and McKean bringing it artistically to life.

Mirrormask is a heavy mix of live action and animation, filled with wonderful creatures and odd encounters, all tinged with McKean's particular style. Overall Mirrormask feels like McKean's output more than Gaiman's - McKean being given a rare chance to really go overboard. With that Mirrormask is probably not the most commercial product when it comes to trying to sell a family/animated movie to a general audience - being a lot more weird and shifting than the run of the mill output.

Mirrormask is the story of Helena. A teenage girl, who typically doesn't get on with her parents and is full of teen angst. However, while some kids might dream of running away to join the circus, Helena's parents run a circus. The film starts with the latest fight between Helena and her mother, which ends with Helena telling her mother to die. Unfortunately before the night is through, Helena's mother has collapsed and is rushed to hospital. This brings Helena's world crashing down. From the colour and lights of the circus, she find herself in grey reality - living with her gran, while her father tries to keep the business from collapsing, and desperate for her mother to get better.

One night when Helena goes to sleep, she finds herself in another world. A world that reflects her drawings, a world that she knows on every level is a dream. But the dream, where the good queen has fallen ill and can only be saved by the Mirrormask, takes on a power that drives her. Perhaps if she can save the queen, who looks uncannily like her mother, then she can save her mother? Of course, things are complicated, no one knows what the mask is or where it is, the white queen has a dark counterpart, and that dark counterpart has a missing daughter who looks just like Helena and seems to be intent on destroying everything.

Mirrormask is obviously a metaphor. The dark and light queens reflecting Helena's conflicting emotions - the darkness of how she hasn't always gotten on with them, versus her regret at what she has said to her mother, and the real love the she feels for her family. Though only through the quest do we explore these emotions with Helena. Mirrormask is a dark fantasy and while at times the plot is overwhelmed by the imagery, if you immerse yourself in the whole then you can feel absorbed and overwhelmed by the moment.

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