Despite its gracefully short running time Into the Mirror still can feel energy-sapping. It’s a film that’s trying to do two rather difficult things. It’s a coming of age movie which tries to tackle the idea of a man hiding his queer identity from the bleak, uncaring world of modern professionals and toxic masculinity. It also wants to do so by incorporating surreal techniques that give the film a dream-like state throughout. There’s no problem with wanting to try something ambitious for a debut feature. Ambition over safety can lead to great things. However, there’s a shallowness that pervades Into the Mirror and stops it from ever really being engaging.
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Jamie Bacon plays Daniel, a haunted-looking man who moves to The Big Smoke after a past tragedy. The move has him working in an office job, doing his best to avoid the more boorish employees. After a female co-worker leads Daniel to a hot London drag spot, a fire is lit, and Daniel begins to discover a side to his identity that he had been struggling with for what appears to be most of his life.
There needs to be more queer cinema. More films that can challenge perceptions and have audiences relate to different personal experiences and identities. These features need to be accessible as well as relatable. A film like Into The Mirror could easily be a worthwhile gateway film for those looking to find representation within particular avenues. But often for a film to make its mark, it needs detail. Something that Into The Mirror distressingly shows less interest in. One can remark on its cinematography that often bathes in neon glow. You can remark on the film’s throbbing Chromatics score. Both elements seem to lend a hand to Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive (2011), which is a startling contrast when we consider that film’s focus on brutal machismo. For a film that is focused on a young man’s journey into discovering drag (and possibly transitioning), Into The Mirror gives opaque hints to the struggle, but nothing emotive. Everything feels so distant, despite the film’s close-quarter visuals.
While higher budgets are evident in films such as Barry Jenkins’ Moonlight (2017) or Todd Haynes’ Carol (2015), they also don’t scrimp out on the type of gestures that strengthen the reliability of the characters on screen. Into the Mirror spends a lot of its short time using dream sequences to illustrate Daniel’s headspace but spends barely any time establishing Daniel’s life in any way that brings him closer to the audience. A subplot with Daniel’s father barely scratches any surfaces. Daniel’s relationship with a female co-worker is so scant that a pivotal scene later in the film rings false. This is easy for a film writer to blurt out. A straight one at that. But Into the Mirror holds so many of its characters – particularly the queer ones – as ciphers that it’s difficult to give any attention to them
There’s a lot that could be investigated in a film like Into the Mirror, but it’s too frustratingly opaque to get a true grasp on. It’s more invested in dreamscapes than its characters and that can leave a viewer wanting.
Into The Mirror is out now, on digital and in selected cinemas.