Directed by Guillem Morales
Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, and Pablo Derqui
MPAA: NR - Contains Violence, Brief Language & Nudity, and Some Disturbing Images]
[This Review Contains Very Mild Spoilers]
If you were to talk to me last year, the phrase "Produced by Guillermo Del Toro" would've inspired excitement and giddy bursts of glee like no other. Now, however, it's been a little hard to be excited after having seen Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, which ended up being one of the most disappointing movies of last year. So I was skeptical about going into Julia's Eyes, because it was another one of those "Produced By" Del Toro projects that he didn't have full creative control over. It could go either way, it could be masterful and terrifying like The Orphanage was, or boring and forgettable like Don't Be Afraid of the Dark.
After having finally seen it, however, I'm happy to report that while Julia's Eyes is no Orphanage, it's a damn good, solid horror movie with enough inventive twists and techniqus up its sleeve to keep you involved the whole way through.
Julia's Eyes already has a good thing going for it in that it stars the wonderful Belén Rueda, who also starred in the Del Toro produced The Orphanage, which I've already expressed my love for. She plays the titular Julia, who learns in the beginning of the film that her twin sister had killed herself after suffering through a horrible degenerative eye disease that left her blind. As Julia further investigates, however, she starts to think that, surprise surprise, her sister was actually murdered. So she starts chasing a trail of clues to catch the murderer, only to discover that she is suffering through the same degenerative eye disease that could leave her totally blind before even catching the killer.
If Alfred Hitchcock took hold of his premise back in his heyday, he would've ran wild with it. The film is a healthy mixture of a Halloween style stalker movie with elements of Nancy Drew mystery all wrapped around a psychological thriller for good measure. And it also helps that each element is intriguing. There are some nice suspenseful moments of realizing that the killer could be in the very same room as Julia, you're actually invested in learning who the killer is and his motives, and the gimmick of having the lead going near-blind works really well.
Director Guillem Morales does a good job at making a nice, chilly atmosphere that isn't as overtly stylized and exaggerated as Don't Be Afraid of the Dark but still grounded enough to give the film a sense of realism. But what really makes the movie work is, much like The Orphanage, Belén Rueda's performance. In both films, she does a remarkable job at presenting us with a strong female character that shows fierce determination and resourcefulness amidst her situation.
There were also some stylistic touches that I thought were really interesting. Now, this isn't really a huge spoiler but I'm still going to give you a little spoiler warning in case you're that interested.
There comes a point where Julia goes completely blind for a while and must wear bandages around her face to make sure her eye surgery is successful. When this happens, director Guillem Morales uses some clever techniques to put you in as much of the same mindset as the blind Julia without, well, showing us a dark and muddied screen the whole time. He shoots everything in over the shoulder shots so that when Julia is talking to someone, we can never see his/her face at all.
This adds a layer of subtle tension as you're unaware of who she can even be talking to, whether it's the killer or not, or even if it's in her head. Morales also amps up the sound effects for things such as phones ringing, keys clanging, and doors slamming to make the viewer more disoriented. I wouldn't say he takes full advantage of the gimmick, but I'm glad that Morales didn't try to overdo the cleverness of these techniques and keep the focus on Julia. It also helps that Belén Rueda totally sells you on her plight. Being stalked by a man you can never see? There aren't that many things I can think of that are equally terrifying.
For the first two thirds, Julia's Eyes is about as solid a horror film as you can get. Good characters, great performances, nice atmosphere, clever gimmicks. It doesn't really shake your world and it isn't the scariest thing ever, but I couldn't find any major flaws with it other than "it could've been better".
Then the final act kicks in, and this is where the movie is both at its best and its worst. There are some tense set-pieces that really ratchet up the suspense and lead to a wholly satisfying climax. However, it is also in this portion of the film that the revelations on who the killer is are brought up, leading to a twist that is about as unpredictable and surprising as the sun rising. Oh, it's not a bad twist by any means. At the very least, it's kinda clever and it does make sense. It's just that they throw around way too many hints and too many obvious red herrings to try and desperately throw you off, but only make it even more predictable.
But whatever, I'm still down for this movie, I'm still along for the ride. And THEN we get a second twist that explains the killer's motives, and while it is a little more surprising, it almost ruins the movie because it makes the plot needlessly convoluted and confusing. The way they reveal it is a bit too quick and I got disoriented trying to wrap my head around it whilst other things started to happen in the movie. Granted, I still prefer that over my arch-nemesis screenwriting mechanic, a.k.a. the long 10-minute conversation that explains everything in thorough, boring detail.
Another thing I couldn't quite get was that (okay, another mild spoiler here) the killer apparently has this "thing" where he can be "invisible". Not invisible in the same sense as, say, you can't see a ghost even though it's right in front of you, but that he is...uh, really good at hiding in the shadows and not being noticed...I guess. The movie doesn't explain this well enough that you can really buy into it. It would've made more sense if there was a supernatural element to the movie, but the film is completely grounded in reality so it doesn't really make sense how he's able to do what he does.
All these flaws I just mentioned don't ruin the movie, but they are a glaring distraction from an otherwise solidly executed thriller.
Final Verdict: Despite an over-complicated plot, Julia's Eyes is a stylish, engaging thriller with enough gimmicks to keep you interested and anchored by a strong performance from Belén Rueda. It doesn't quite reach the terrifying highs of The Orphanage, but if you want a solid, suspenseful rental of a movie, you can't really go wrong with Julia's Eyes.
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See ya next time. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to donate money to the "Del Toro At the Mountains of Madness Charity". That man deserves it. Bye!