MirrorMask is a sepia nightmare-scape of fantastical beauty, Dave McKean’s stunningly realised world coming to life in a cartoonish dream of Jim Henson creatures and masked demons.
Circus child Helena (Stephanie Leonidas) finds herself dropped into the magical world in this coming-of-age fable, reminiscent of Labyrinth and Return to Oz, after her mother is hospitalised after a collapse. Now, trapped in a land with only her own drawings and a hodgepodge of giants, sphinxes, mysterious books, and masked strangers to guide her, she must find the charm that awakens the queen of the light and holds back the encroaching dark.
While the symbolism is thicker than the stylised shadows, the morals never feel heavy-handed or blatant, and Helena’s quest to apologise to her ill mother is heartfelt and genuine without resorting to sugary sweetness. It’s a fairytale of the nastiest kind, and a complete travesty that this low-budget gem didn’t find a broader cinema release. Even though the puppets are traded for CGI, the creatures and landscape are no less vivid and palpable, the claustrophobia and tension handled so skilfully it’s impossible not to be swept along by the rush, led into a world where everything is extraordinary and nothing is to be taken for granted.