The 1982 film, Face in the Mirror, opens with a community in crisis.
A teenager named Danny DeMarco (played by Michael Mitchell) has been shot and is being rushed to the hospital. As we listen to the people who are following the ambulance to the hospital, it soon becomes clear that Danny shot himself and that the shooting occurred at a youth group meeting. At the hospital, Danny is sent to the ICU. He’s in a coma. The doctors are not sure whether he’ll ever come out of that coma.
The first half of the 65-minute film is dominated by flashbacks as people try to figure out what could have led to Danny shooting himself. Danny’s father remembers the time that he gave Danny a hard time for winning first place in a chess tournament. Though I think most parents would be proud to have a son who was actually good at playing a game that required a certain amount of intelligence, Danny’s father is unimpressed. Danny’s father was a jock in high school and he expects Danny to be the same. Chess? Why, that’s for wimpy youth group kids!
Speaking of wimpy youth group kids, the members of the youth group occasionally pause from the prayer to remember all of the times that they failed Danny. They remember their own hypocritical behavior and how they would give Danny a hard time whenever he pointed it out. They remember all of the times that Danny seemed to be confused about his faith and how they didn’t listen to his concerns. They remember the youth group meeting in which Danny suddenly pulled out a gun and, after calling out everyone else on their hypocrisy and saying that he didn’t really believe in God, he pointed the gun at his head. When another member of the group tried to grab the gun, it went off. While their parents dismiss Danny as just being “a crazy kid,” the members of the youth group confront the role that they all played in Danny’s depression….
The first 30 minutes of this film is surprisingly well-acted and the theme of teen suicide is sensitively handled … up until the point that the film insinuates that Danny wouldn’t be depressed or suicidal if he was really a Christian. I’ve known enough depressed but sincerely religious people to know that this is simply not the truth. It’s actually a rather dangerous message to send out, as it suggests that depression is somehow a personal failing as opposed to something that everyone, to some degree, is going to have to deal with at some point in their life.
The second half of the film is all about the efforts of Danny’s friends to sneak into his hospital room so that they can pray for him and hopefully get through to him, even though he’s in a coma. Again, the performances are sincere. However, tonally, this half of the film is a mess. There are some awkward moments of humor which really don’t seem like they belong in a movie about teen suicide. The dialogue also get a bit cringey, as often happens when teenage characters are written by screenwriters who obviously were quite a bit older than the people they were writing for.
Face in the Mirror was directed by Russell Daughten, Jr. Daughten also directed Nite Song and produced the Thief In The Night films. Like those films, Face in the Mirror is a sincere but flawed time capsule. The film’s tone is all over the place but I have to admit that I did kind of enjoy watching this grainy production with its amateur cast. What can I say? I have a weakness for low-budget indie films that feature a bunch of people who probably never made another film after this one. Like Nite Song, watching this film is like stepping into a time machine and traveling to a simpler, if not quite innocent, past. In the end, the film’s main message is that we should be aware that our words and our actions can hurt people without us even realizing it. That’s not a bad one.