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Simon Read [Film Festival 05.06.11] Spain movie review horror

Year: 2011
Directors: Guillem Morales
Writers: Guillem Morales / Oriol Paulo
IMDB: link
Trailer: link
Review by: Projectcyclops
Rating: 6 out of 10

To kick-off our coverage of DeadByDawn ’11 we’ve got a Del Toro produced Spanish thriller directed by Guillem Morales and starring Belén Rueda (you’ll recognize her from “The Orphanage”) and Lluís Homar (Broken Embraces). The story starts with a young blind woman committing suicide by hanging herself in the opening scene, while an unknown figure watches and takes photos from a dark corner of the basement. Immediately following her death we cut to an observatory where an identical woman collapses, and as colleagues rush to help her she states that her sister is in trouble. This is Julia, and her twin sister Sara’s death leads her on a bizarre quest to find out who coerced the girl into suicide, and who is now following Julia’s every move and creeping into the house at night to watch her sleeping.

Julia’s Eyes is a film about sight, sound and how it feels to be impaired, to be restricted in movement and ability and to be forced to rely on others, as well as being a slick psycho thriller with a dozen twists and turns. It would seem that Sara’s condition was genetic and Julia is suffering from a rapidly increasing visual impairment too, having lost about 15% of her vision already. She travels with her husband Isaac to Sara’s empty home and they converse with police as to why Sara would take her own life, especially while listening to Burt Bacharach (“She hated that song.”) and in fact about to have the operation that could have restored her sight completely.

Julia plays sleuth and asks around the neighborhood, looking for clues. Another blind woman, the elderly Seniora Soledad, was good friends with Sara and tells Julia to check out the Centre for the Blind, where she spies on blind women bitching about her sister, and discovers that she may have had a lover with whom she took trips to Bellevista. “What’s in Bellevista?” asks one of them, “Hotel rooms!” shrieks another and they fall about laughing, only to suddenly smell Julia and chase her out of the locker room. Soon Julia and the reluctant Isaac find themselves in Bellevista, where a waiter recognizes Julia as her twin and offers more clues, claiming that the mystery boyfriend was an invisible person, “You know, how some people you just don’t see.” Not exactly helpful, but Julia presses on, even as Isaac begins to think her obsessive and tries at every opportunity to hinder her efforts. What’s Isaac’s deal? Who is that spooky janitor we keep seeing in the background? How much longer has Julia got before blindness takes a full hold of her and she becomes dependant on others for support, halting her investigation entirely?

This is the damndest film. The first act is terrific, as Julia slowly but purposefully investigates the secrets in her dead sister’s life, and meets a whole host of creepy characters (I haven’t mentioned the other neighbor, who is the very definition of a dirty-old-man), while contending with the odd bout of sudden blindness, or a confrontation with the mystery cameraman following her around. Unfortunately this all comes to an end when Julia finally does succumb to total blindness and is housebound for the middle section of the film, where she befriends her new care person Ivan, who teaches her (in a ludicrous montage that seems totally out of place) how to overcome her fear and navigate herself around her environment without smashing lamps and stubbing her toes. While this relationship and the subsequent plot twists are mildly diverting, the film begins to lag, and we start to miss the old Julia, tough and assertive in her prowling. Instead we get night after night of Julia waking up, sensing a man in the room and calling Ivan to come rescue her. Inevitably the police never find anyone in the house and the detective Dimas begins to tire of the nightly call outs. If Dimas is bored by it all then just imagine how the audience feels. Eventually the hospital finds a donor and Julia has a chance of a transplant, which results in her having to wear a blindfold for three weeks. At the mention of “three weeks” my inner voice yelled, “Three weeks? We’ve already been here for two years!” This is a classic example of a film that needed to be whittled down to 90 minutes (a blessed running time for any film) and keep the pace of the first half hour in place, but the film is two hours, and boy did it feel like two hours. While the ending does pick up speed and we finally get some of the action and violence hinted at in the beginning, I felt too tired and, frankly, had lost my enthusiasm for the film by this point.

For graceful direction and occasional suspense, Julia’s Eyes scores big, but we don’t really get a pay-off that works, and for anyone hoping for gore, there are exactly three moments of bloody violence, count ‘em. The films that it reminded me of most, although doesn’t live up to, are the very early Giallo thrillers by Dario Argento, specifically “Cat O’ Nine Tails”, which features a blind protagonist. In those films we get intense suspense and an ending that is lightening in a bottle, often finishing immediately after the villain is revealed to us. Here we get the black gloved killer with his tool kit of syringes and bizarre obsession with the lead character, but at no point are we really scared nor do we even really care who it is (the reveal is one of those, “Hello, Mother” affairs) that’s terrorizing Julia. I did enjoy the clever moments of dialogue in which sight is referenced but not explicitly, for example characters will say things like, “Don’t you see?” or, “You must open your eyes to what’s going on”, and even, “He can’t take his eyes off of you.” There’s even a scene in which Isaac has trouble reading a menu and laments that he left his reading glasses in the car, eventually stating that he’ll simply have to do without them. The script is let down later by such spectacularly duff lines as, “Monsters aren’t real, are they?” followed up by, “This one is.” The killer even busts out the classic, “You don’t even know what fear is!” to which I audibly groaned.

I’ve maybe been a bit harsh with this film, but as you read the interesting premise and see Del Toro’s name above the title you cannot help but feel some anticipation that this might be another modern classic. If someone had said to me before going in, “Oh, it’s not great but it has some cool moments”, then I’d likely have been more forgiving, as it stands though I can’t recommend this one.

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Obscure (11 years ago) Reply

Informative review! Maybe passages of the film are referential to 'Wait until Dark' a psycho thriller of 1960 directed by Terence Young and starring Audrey Hepburn?


JeffC (10 years ago) Reply

I rather enjoyed it and liked how it played out. At least it wasn't a tired old remake.

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