Try this occult incantation: “Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, are you the mysterious malevolent entity that instigated a cruel spiral of madness, emotional disintegration, torture, murder, gross fingernail stuff, and the populating of our sweet upper middle class home with laser-eyed phantoms, or are you just the repository of transferred childhood psychological trauma and, sincerely, just some old mirror?”
It doesn’t trip off the tongue, I know. But it’s the only appropriate form of address to the maybe-haunted object decorating the office wall of a suburban family whose parents (Rory Cochran, Katee Sackhoff) met a protracted, gruesome end, one that sent their young daughter Kaylie (Annalisse Basso) into foster care and younger son Tim (Garrett Ryan) to a mental hospital.
All grown up with a supernatural score to settle, adult Kaylie (Karen Gillan) and Tim (Brenton Thwaites) return to the scene of the crime, Kaylie to “kill it” and Tim to explain to his vendetta-driven sister that the insanity of their home had a perfectly rational explanation. But half a glance at any marketing materials for the film will automatically tip you toward her POV, so you know that her action plan involving video cameras, timers, strategically placed potted plants (mirror kills them because… just because) and a terrifying, tension-rigged, mirror-smashing device are all going to come into play.
Co-writer and director Mike Flanagan builds Kaylie's case via flashbacks and twisty, perception-screwing fake-outs, and his actors assist by conveying all the childhood confusion and adult psychotic rage required to sell a film centered around a haunted object. Most impressive is the movie’s relative lack of jump-scares (just a few) and extreme gore, replaced with dread-filled suspense and a neatly packaged analogy fit for any adult still sifting through shards of a broken childhood. What’s real and what’s not? Which memories are reliable and which aren’t? And which piece of furniture in your parents’ home is truly to blame? Figure that out because you're probably going to have to kill it or suffer more consequences in the sequel.