MirrorMask (2005) – movie review

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Movie Review by Vivienne Messenger

Starring: Stephanie Leonidas, Jason Barry, Rob Brydon, Gina McKee, Dora Bryan

Director: Dave McKean

Opening with a circus scene and stunts, MIRRORMASK establishes our heroine, Helena Campbell (Stephanie Leonidas), as a typical headstrong teenager. She has anything but a conventional life. A juggler and talented artist she performs in the travelling circus owned and run by her parents who also perform stunts alongside their other employees – circus performers. When stress seems to take its toll on her mother who suddenly falls ill and is admitted to hospital, everyone’s life is thrown into chaos. Helena feels it’s her fault because they are always arguing. The reality though is that the future of the circus and family business is consequently thrown into jeopardy. No performances, no income, no pay for the circus performers/crew.

Staying with her nan, Helena visits her mum daily in hospital. She is naturally in a heightened state of anxiety and emotion, and drives herself to exhaustion. It’s in this state that she falls into a deep sleep (we assume). From here on, bar the closing scenes, the mystique of the circus life transforms into an alternate and fantastical world as MIRRORMASK develops into a bizarre and rather unusual children’s film. It’s a world with distorted visual images, weird creatures and beings, totally surrealistic, and Helena finds herself threatened by an all pervading darkness and unexplained evil presence.

She’s suddenly flung into a nightmare quest to save the City of Light from the Land of Shadows by finding the ‘charm’. Unfortunately no one knows what the charm is as it was stolen by a princess from the Dark Lands after duping the queen of the City of Light who’s since been left immobilized in a trance-like state. Thus some clever parallels between this nightmare world and Helena’s present predicament in the real world unfold. Drawn into unravelling this puzzle to save the Kingdom of Light and its subjects, Helena must find the charm which turns out to be a key to the ‘MirrorMask’ – a mask that has magical powers giving its wearer strength of will to succeed.

The film is visually bizarre but also quite unique and ingenious. Despite being sometimes difficult to follow, it is intriguing enough to keep a child’s attention because it is so strange, mysterious and unpredictable as dreams are. Everything is distorted in this alternate world from the beings and beasts that inhabit it to the surroundings. Though visually extreme and surrealistic the basic premise is that good is fighting against evil – Helena fighting alongside her mother. Her mother fighting her serious illness. Helena the possible loss of her mother.

Stephanie Leonidas manages to portray a very believable teenager having to learn to deal with the challenges life throws at you. The CGI is wonderful with its weirdness and the soundtrack for the most part is also unconventional and complements the mood of the film. Listened to on its own though, the soundtrack would probably be unbearable and grate on your nerves in the end but seems to suit the whole bizarre aspect well.

My eight year-old son was completely enthralled with MIRRORMASK’s wacky fantasies and the race against time mission our heroine was trapped in. I wasn’t quite so entranced but loved the surrealism. My son – he can’t wait to watch it again!

3 out of 6 stars