My notes on Look Away, on UK VOD from April 15.
Naturally, when one doppelganger movie is raking it in at the box office, a leaner evil twin will loom out of the mirror in the hope of usurping its place – or at least trading on its keyword to scoop up some viewers. Written and directed by Assaf Bernstein, this very Canadian small-scale psycho-horror was made well before Us – and is much more like a mash-up of Carrie and The Dark Half than the recent Twilight Zone-ish movie – but now gets a window of opportunity. It’s a slow-burning character piece which doesn’t go all out for horror, though there are hints that it might have been conceived as something bloodier – with perhaps some of the gruesome twin/surgical sadism angle of Sisters.
Maria (India Eisley) is a near-anorexic teenage doormat, petted but often put down by her sole friend Lily (Penelope Mitchell), nurturing a crush on Lily’s sort-of-knowing boyfriend Sean (Harrison Gilbertson), and stuck in a chilly moderne home with emotionally distant plastic surgeon Dad (Jason Isaacs) and frumpy lush Mom (Mira Sorvino). Her parents know exactly the wrong things to say to drive her up to the bathroom where she starts talking with her reflection, who talks back and introduces herself as Airam and begins dishing out advice which – in an interesting angle – is as manipulatively self-serving as the input of everyone else in her life. After a bit of humiliation at the winter prom, Maria finally gives in to Airam and kisses the glass – whereupon the girl in the mirror takes over the protagonist’s life and goes on what might be seen as a revenge spree (with a surprisingly low body count) but also as an acting-out of long-repressed desires. There’s a garbled flashback/dream possible origin for Airam, but this would play the same if it were just another Fight Club riff. It falls a little between two stools – the spook stuff is pretty much on a level with those ‘mild peril’ female-skewing suspense items that play in the afternoon on Channel 5 and all the time on Hallmark, but it peels back the psychological layers a bit more forensically, and also ventures into some seamy/steamy sexual areas (including incest) with a surprising amount of non-erotic, quietly disturbing teen nudity.
Big-eyed Eisley has a genre heritage – her mother is Olivia Hussey, of Black Christmas and Psycho IV, and her grandfather is 1950s B leading man Anthony Eisley, of The Wasp Woman and The Naked Kiss – and throws herself all-in to a meaty role, playing off the way Maria and Airam become more alike as things get crazier, with a nicely thrownaway moment as the evil double looks back in the mirror during a particularly reprehensible act and sees that her supposed good original isn’t screaming and fighting her anymore. Isaac and Sorvino also get more to play with than the types who’d usually get stuck with parental stiff roles – it’s funny and creepy when Dad promises his daughter an early birthday present that turns out not to be a car but a spot of utterly needless plastic surgery. The Canadian content means an excess of skating scenes, which is at least different. Bernstein can’t resist drawing out a story that gets predictable very early, and too often plumps for the most obvious shot – yes, there’s a scene where Eisley smashes the mirror and looks at her fractured reflection, as in every mad double movie ever made.
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