17 May 2011


The thing about appreciating foreign films like Julia's Eyes is that my enthusiasm is immediately tempered by the dread of a boneheaded American-language remake if it becomes any kind of box office success. We're fortunate that Pan's Labyrinth and The Orphanage, which also had Guillermo del Toro involved in some capacity, haven't yet been dumbed down for the PG-13 crowd, but I can't help but wonder if his latest production will be pillaged.

Perhaps the rubbish Jessica Alba flick The Eye will put them off, as this one also gets under the eyelids of sight-related horror. Twin sisters Julia and Sara share a degenerative sight disorder, which has already made Sara 100% blind. At the opening of the film, Sara hangs herself in her basement. Julia isn't convinced it was suicide, as Sara was optimistic about an eye transplant operation, and much to the chagrin of her doting husband, she needs to find answers.

Relatively early on in the film, it becomes apparent that it could go in one of two ways. As per usual, that means Sara's suicide could have been influenced by supernatural forces or simply by worldly bastards. The film is a little overlong at 112 minutes, but refreshingly, Julia's Eyes refuses to rely on that ambiguity of nature for too long, and it's a film that constantly shifts its terms slightly with each subsequent twist, to keep you intrigued throughout.

In all honesty, it would be quite a typical horror film, but writer-director Guillem Morales never quite lets it settle that way. For one thing, it's wonderfully shot, with some excellent use of POV shots as Julia's sight begins to deteriorate in the second act. Morales gets to the core of the loss of control that comes with the loss of Julia's sight, spending a number of scenes that introduce new characters showing only Julia's face. She can't see them, nor can we, and somewhere out there, a monster is prowling.

I can't pretend that I didn't second-guess that particular revelation, even with the impressive seclusion of the viewer to heighten the tension. It's clumsily foreshadowed at one point, in a way from which lesser films would have difficulty in recovering. But when that revelation comes to pass, the tension goes right through the ceiling five seconds later. The offending twist becomes almost like a non-event in the new disequilibrium that we're confronted with- you might have seen it coming, but move on, now this is happening.

This is what supports the film past the potentially more concise 90 minute running time, and I can't say I was ever bored with the film. Its principal strength is in its loving development of characters. Belén Rueda really makes Julia a character worth caring about, because she's experienced and expressive in her performance. There's none of the leering misanthropy that Hollywood horror cinema has towards much younger heroines, and subsequently, you're just as invested in the character's fate as you should be.

I was also impressed by Lluís Homar's turn as Julia's husband Isaac, a carefully constructed character who's well established early on so that his arc with Julia packs the most profound emotional punch later on. It's a film that prizes the emotional value of fear rather than the adrenaline rush that accompanies a jump scare. Compared to the one-note jump-scares of Platinum Dunes' output, Julia's Eyes is a symphony of terror. Somehow, everyone in the world seems to understand that, except Hollywood.

Julia's Eyes isn't going to shock more jaded horror fans into acclaim, but it is classy, beautifully assembled and never, even for a moment, any less than intriguing. It could probably use a good edit, to take out some of the running time, but it's always taking care to build the characters and build the story in a way that's all too rare in the genre these days. Its devices may be those you have seen before, but it ticks so many of the right boxes in its execution that it's hard to begrudge its excellence.

Julia's Eyes is released on Friday, in selected cinemas nationwide.
When you see Julia's Eyes, why not share your comments below?

I'm Mark the mad prophet, and until next time, don't watch anything I wouldn't watch.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

It's not a bad film by any stretch, its well acted and made, especially the play on visual degradation. My issue with is that some of the development doesn't any make sense, like the opening five minutes, "I'm so blind and terrorized I'm going to hang myself", yeah, not buying that. Neither does the nature of the 'invisible man'. Then later on their is a lot that can only be described as ludicrous, the funny kind. Its only post-reveal that the film becomes any good, unfortunately its too little too late for me. You like it, that's cool, but for me, no thanks.