Wednesday, 25 May 2011

The Eyes Have It

It's been so long since I saw an English language horror film that properly scared me. I watched Orphan on TV recently. I wanted to rinse my eyes out afterwards. It was cheap, shlocky and heavy-handed, with missing, unexplained plot points and a twist so ludicrous that I was almost angry when the film ended. "THAT was my payoff?", I scoffed, "I feel so cheated, I demand to see more of this shitty movie just for some closure!". You know what I watched afterwards to rectify it? HELLRAISER. Compared to Orphan, it was like a lost Orson Welles masterpiece.

By comparison, I've been consistently falling more and more in love with horrors of the Spanish/Latin American variety. I was introduced to it by Guillermo Del Toro, then watched the likes of [REC], The Orphanage and a series of Spanish horrors on BBC4, shamefully none of which I can remember the names of. The Orphanage, produced by Del Toro, is a beautifully shot, classic ghost story, held together largely by a storming central performance from Belen Rueda. I've never seen her in anything else, so when I heard of her new film Julia's Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia), I was very much intrigued.

Another Del Toro produced horror/thriller, Julia's Eyes concerns itself with the seen and unseen, what is there and what isn't, and well as the fallibility of our own physical sense of sight. Julia (Rueda) suffers from degenerative sight loss, which she is struggling to battle while investigating the apparent suicide of her twin sister Sara, who suffered the same disease. The mystery deepens with news of Sara's mysterious boyfriend, whom no one seems to recall. He is literally the 'invisible man'. A shadow. A blur on the radar. Which, naturally, makes him a little tricky to track down.

Rueda's central performance is commanding, believable and utterly compelling: the despair in her eyes as she loses her sight is palpable and I really felt her desperation as she races against time to solve the mystery. There were genuine scares, and the whole film is as tense as a knife-edge. Alot of shots from her point of view made it easy to literally 'see' through her eyes, and at other times the camera never lets her out of its sight.
There are twists and turns aplenty, but with anything, the pay-off feels a little less deserved than what it had been built to be. The 'monster revelation' is out of nowhere and the tenuous connection to the other characters seems a little forced. It's easy to join the dots between the characters once the reveal has been made, and the film does seem a little overlong after a certain point. There's alot of 'bumping around in the dark', and the climactic showdown lacks the ironic twist I was sure would come.
The journey to the end is what really matters, I felt, and there are properly genuine scares. The 'failing sight' angle means there are plenty of opportunities to make us believe that all is not as it appears, and that things can be mistaken. The film is beautifully shot, yet bleak, as confined in its vision as its central character and creeps along menacingly as the threat from the 'shadow man' could come out of anywhere. It didn't help that I recently had to get glasses for my manual-focus eyesight... I think this affected me on a more personal level. Overall though, this is a genuinely taught, creepy thriller, brilliantly acted and wonderfully constrained. As it's Spanish with subtitles, it may worryingly be a 'blink and you'll miss it' affair... it's a genuine shame, as for all its Hollywood-hokey trappings, this film deserves to be seen.

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