★★★1/2 out of ★★★★★
Though it doesn’t bring much new to the “teens in peril because they played a ghost-summoning game” subgenre, Queen of Spades: The Looking Glass offers enough visual flair and cultural differences to make it worth seeking out.
Directed by Aleksandr Domogarov
A Russian take on the “say the name three times while looking in the mirror” horror trope, Queen of Spades: The Looking Glass doesn’t offer much in the way of originality, but it does serve up an entertaining ghost story with a game young cast and splendid set design. Most seasoned horror fans have seen all of this before, but director Aleksandr Domogarov presents these proceedings in a way that makes you fine with seeing it all again.
Teenager Olga (Angelina Strechina) and her younger half-brother Artyom (Daniil Izotov) are placed in a private school by their estranged father who lives abroad after they survive a car accident that claimed the life of their mother. Artyom begins seeing visions of his mother calling to him to join her, which leads to a late-night chase through a forbidden part of the school and some of Olga’s new schoolmates playing the aforementioned mirror game, which never leads to things going well for the characters in scare fare. Each of the teens makes a wish, and the evil titular ghost finds twisted ways to make their dreams come true, sometimes merely appearing to do so, before killing them.
Nikita Khorkov’s art direction is terrific. The set design of the off-limits area that houses the titular mirror — along with several surprises — is particularly well done and eerie. Aleksey Strelov’s cinematography is wonderful and captures the spooky mood and lighting of that area perfectly. Great attention to detail such as this helps lift Queen of Spades: The Looking Glass from being just another ordinary movie of its kind to an engaging foreign effort.
Domogarov, working from a screenplay by Maria Ogneva, directs his first feature film with confidence. He may be using such stand-bys as reflections and dark figures in the background, but he obviously has a knack for helming horror fare, and though the film has its share of jump-scares, he knows how to build suspense and a sense of dread, too.
Strechina does a highly impressive job as the resentful, emotionally scarred Olga. Although her character often reacts negatively to her situations, Strechina imbues her with a vulnerability that helps viewers support her. Izotov is also solid as a young boy who is initially dazed by his mother’s death but becomes increasingly disturbed once the Queen of Spades makes her first appearance.
Queen of Spades: The Looking Glass doesn’t offer up many actual scares, but it does build up an effective eeriness. I recommend it for those interested in an international take on American teen-targeted fright films.
Queen of Spades: The Looking Glass had its North American premiere at Popcorn Frights, running in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, from August 8–16.
Review by Joseph Perry