Despite liberally plagiarizing ideas from a similar Spanish film—mainly the subjects of time travel and loss of identity—Oriol Paulo’s Mirage differs from Pedro Amenabar’s Open Your Eyes by avoiding sci-fi leanings. That and a sliver of credibility. It concerns itself with the surface-level sheen of science fiction, at the same time, leaving a dramatic core half-empty thus retaining none of the predecessor’s dual dose of heft and depth—a crime considering a run time exceeding two hours’ length.
The premise is simple: in 2014, a family moves into a house, and the wife discovers she can communicate with an old inhabitant twenty-five years in the past through a VCR. Knowing that the resident, Nico, would get killed by a speeding car next, Vera Roy (Adriana Ugarte) is compelled to save him. This time portal is temporary, made possible by two identical and severe electrical storms lasting three days, a quarter-century apart.
Having succeeded in saving the boy, Vera awakens to an old familiarity now upheaved. She’s a renowned neurosurgeon, not the former nurse helping one— her husband, David (Alvaro Morte), suddenly a stranger, and her daughter simply no more. The prospect of losing her child, though viable, is not the primal fear nor the crippling grief one expects such a tragedy to stir up. And for right reason; she is losing her to erasure, i.e., intricacies of time’s abstractions.
A side plot of Nico’s neighbor killing his German wife during the 1989 storm, with the backdrop of the Berlin Wall falling, is superfluous beyond spurring Nico to investigate the commotion and cause him to run in the path of a speeding car. Except by all indications, Nico survives, the neighbor still gets killed, no one is arrested now, and Vera’s arc is altered.
To its credit, the film recognizes the butterfly effect, and Vera correctly surmises the mechanics of how a new destiny has been charted for her. In tandem, the film draws from the sliding doors “moments” that lead to her new conundrum which pits Vera in a race against time. So instead of despairing, she channels her inner sleuth. Though with time running out and the bewilderment of detective Leyra (Chino Darin) as her only sympathy, the urgency is fabricated.
The drama suffers from resembling more the quotidian anxieties one experiences from misplacing their car keys, or a TV remote, than losing an offspring. Again, a negligence akin to Honey, I Shrunk the Kids. However, trained eyes will pick up on Leyra’s overly accommodating investment in such a bizarre case despite his pleadings of protocol first. One scene has Vera’s ward superior filling in the blanks in her memory that exposes the entire twist for viewers armed with hindsight from a second viewing. Leyra has more at stake that he lets in on, coming off as a beneficiary in all this.
Though Mirage packs similar topics of regret and do-overs seen in Eyes—the film even unabashedly copies the infamous leap from a high rise—it operates on the premise of revisionism as one sees fit; career, spouse or child, which should be prioritized first if given the choice to salvage anything? The puzzle is there, as there was in the film emulated here (the protagonist is accused of a crime he can’t remember) but the dramatic impact is lacking as the film drops any interest in sci-fi tropes, same with exploring the choice dilemma as regards feminism.
Breakthroughs emerge in the plot, and none insofar as Vera’s self-discovery demands, and there is a missed opportunity in the omission of feminist theory, or at least a Faustian bargain, in reconciling aspirations with domestic reality, as in this new timeline Vera is now an accomplished doctor unencumbered by pesky distractions like marriage and motherhood. Characters return as variations of former selves and Vera is confronted with imitations of acquaintances. Lovers turned patients turned complete strangers, etc. And in her quest to find Gloria in time, Vera grapples not so much with the growing set of identities her meddling causes, but how to have her cake and eat it, too.
All of that is reduced to a conventional structure as opposed to the underdeveloped eureka moment. Oriol dodges potholes by shifting focus from his conduit of time in favor of constructing a few airtight parallel universes. But outside of genre confines, his exploration of the branching strands is not as deep or layered. Not that an intricate web is required as the main subtext remains an identity at odds with itself. In an older film, The Corpse, Paulo had a crack at a thriller involving a femme fatale faking her death and rising from the dead, and the feeling is a director keener on foolproofing his pedigree instead of elevating his craft.
One need only consider familiar works as the blueprint desired, and unattained, by Oriol. On top of Amenabar’s film referenced throughout, I am also reminded of the curiously scant filmography of Shane Carruth. His two films to date are both starkly different sci-fi’s, each dealing with time travel (Primer) and the search of identity (Upstream Color). Primer is a dense exercise in cinematic gaslighting that works despite convolutions, while Upstream’s true meaning is elusively lost in ephemeral beauty. But in devoting an entire feature to one area, audiences are easily roped in by the grand ideas beyond the story. Instead, Mirage sees Oriol doing both too much at once, and too much of the same. His middle-of-the-road thrillers, at heart, despite incidental facade and roadside attractions.