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Mirror Mirror (1990) / Near Dark (1987)


This review is part of a series: 31 Days of Horror Directed by Women.

Let's compare two seemingly starkly different films, shall we? On the surface, there's not much in common between Mirror Mirror and Near Dark— besides the fact that both movies prompted me to ask the exact same question after watching. Mirror Mirror is about a girl named Megan (Rainbow Harvest), who moves to a new town with her single mother (Karen Black). Unfortunately, her new high school lacks any distinct Mean Girls-esque cliques, and is instead populated exclusively by perfectly coiffed cheerleader/sport-o preps. Her shitty, boring classmates make it evident that Megan's Winona Ryder-in-Beetlejuice vibe isn't up to their standards, and she is almost immediately bullied by everyone. Thankfully, Megan does sort of befriend one sympathetic classmate, who is friendly enough to accompany her around the hostile hallways and sit with her at lunch. When Megan discovers a mysterious mirror that seems to be enchanted in a room of their new home, her life seems to change for the better.

The bullying in Mirror Mirror vaguely reminds me of Carrie in its unnecessary cruelty toward its protagonist. Besides bullying, Carrie and Megan also both have complicated relationships with their mothers. I found these narrative threads to be much weaker, however, in Mirror Mirror. In fact, as interesting as the movie's premise is, the film doesn't give Megan enough motivation or purpose for acting as rashly as she does. As one might expect, the mirror wreaks bloody havoc on anyone standing in the way of what Megan wants, but the mirror itself is full of powerful, dark energy that eventually corrupts and consumes Megan as well. It's actually a really depressing ending to a film that fails to convince me this girl actually deserves what she gets. Unlike Carrie, Megan is never really given tangible motivation for wanting to utilize such violence; it's never established why she'd need to be so full of vengeance as to want to murder. Megan isn't bullied to the extent that Carrie is, and while she doesn't get along with her mom, their relationship does not have the deeply traumatic roots so apparent between Carrie and her mother. In fact, by film's end it appears Megan has unwittingly aligned herself with something evil beyond her control, and is then punished severely for it. I couldn't help but ask why? Why must Megan go through all of that just to die? Is Megan irredeemable just because she wanted to be liked and happened to be manipulated by a bloodthirsty mirror????? 

Near Dark is a better film than Mirror Mirror, certainly, but I found myself similarly confused about its overall message. Near Dark is Kathryn Bigelow's second feature film and follows a group of scrappy, nomadic vampires who travel around in a van. The five of them have a ragtag family dynamic that seems borne more out of necessity/survival than genuine care. When Mae, a vampire, is aggressively hit on by cute cowboy Caleb, it sets off a series of events that changes both of their lives forever. Mae turns Caleb into a vampire, who, if you aren't aware, need to, uh, kill people and drink their blood in order to survive. Caleb isn't really vibing with this part of his newfound vampire-hood, and much of the film's tension arises from his apprehension to just get it the fuck together and kill, already. My favorite scene takes place in a dive bar where we get a taste (ha!) of how each of the vampires likes to take out their victims. Some are abrupt and to the point; others like to seduce their victims first. It's as "fun" as it is truly disturbing: you want to look away but you're also fascinated. Caleb attempts to match their enthusiasm for murder, but can't seem to get into the groove despite their threats to end his life if he doesn't.

I know all of this sounds...bad, right? Like these vampires are total bad guys! The villains of the movie, for sure. This reading works, I guess, until the end of the film, when somehow Caleb reverses the vampiric curse and turns himself back into a regular-degular cowboy man. When the group of vampires kidnap Caleb's little sister and threaten to turn her into a vampire as well, Caleb decides to put his foot down and fight back. The movie's climax is Caleb vs. vampires: battle to the death. Guess who wins? Yep! Caleb manages to kill his vampire foes— except, for some reason, Mae, who he decides to spare. In the final scene, Caleb reverses Mae's vampire curse, and we're meant to be relieved that they'll ostensibly go on to live life together as normies! I couldn't help but ask why? Why is Mae worth saving? Because Caleb is attracted to her and she's less abrasive than— yet just as murderous as— the other vampires? What the fuck? Why are we supposed to believe that the other vampires are irredeemable and deserve what they get? Is Mae only "good" because Caleb wants her to be?

In both Mirror Mirror and Near Dark, we watch women tap into dark forces and gain access to great power— even if that power comes at a cost. I'm disappointed by the endings of both films because both present a weird, lose-lose situation. In Mirror Mirror, Megan accidentally stumbles on a dark power that she can't control and it kills her. The lesson I get is essentially: oh, you thought you could get what you want? Well just for that, you deserve to die! In Near Dark we discover that Mae is accidentally turned into a vampire, and while it doesn't kill her, it does drive her to murder. Sure, this power is destructive, but it also allows her to navigate the world without fear. Talk about a gift! The only reason Mae doesn't die at the end of Near Dark is because a man decides she deserves to live. And let's not forget, she only gets to live as long as she's not a vampire. He wants her, but only if she gives up her unique power. I understand both women do terrible things with their power, but that's low-key why I get so much enjoyment from films like The Love Witch and Jennifer's Body! If it's a horror anyway, why not give the woman her "happy" ending? Let a bitch be evil and win, okay?