Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Film #49 Julia's Eyes (Los Ojos de Julia)

I do try to keep reviews spoiler free, and to even describe the sub-genre of this film would be to give away some of the plot. It's safe to say, though, that it's a horror movie. It's 'presented' (whatever that means) by Guillermo del Toro and is being touted as an "if-you-like-that-you'll-love-this" successor to The Orphanage, with whom it shares a star, Belen Rueda. To be fair, they're not that similar, other than both being smart Spanish horror movies with the same lead actress, but it is safe to say that if you like The Orphanage - and who wouldn't? - you will indeed enjoy this.

To give you an inkling of what's going on, the titular Julia is recently bereaved - her twin sister has mysteriously hanged herself. Julia, like her sister, suffers from a degenerative eye condition that is slowly blinding her (though in a less advanced stage than her completely blind twin). However, as her vision recedes, a sense of being observed by a mysterious presence correspondingly heightens -  as does a belief that this same presence was somehow involved in her sister's death. Her husband (Lluis Homar) and the police are, naturally, sceptical, leaving Julia to investigate alone. However, a series of shocking incidents exacerbate her illness, driving her toward complete blindness as the terror in the dark edges looms ever larger.

Though the performances are good (particularly Rueda, who carries the film), it's the direction and specifically the use of sound and vision that is exceptional. There's a Hitchcockian sensibility at play with much of the cinematography, with the tension expertly built up through shots suggesting a watching presence. As Julia's vision fades, so we the audience are also less able to make out faces and details; sudden sounds (e.g. ringing telephones, slamming doors) are louder and more jarring. It's a fine line that director Guillem Morales has to walk - portraying the experience of blindness in an essentially visual medium while telling a compelling story - but he succeeds with panache.

I'm duty bound as a reviewer surveying any film involving things ocular to make a comparison with Un Chien Andolou. One scene in particular makes the comparison apt, though Iberian eyeball-abuse is really the only shared feature. I should also note at this point that while the film generally scares you with suspense, there is also a fair amount of Cronenberg-ish body-horror; if you are at all squeamish about e.g. knives being pointed at eyes (not a spoiler, it's on the poster) then prepare yourself for plenty of wincing and squirming.

So while it does sag a little in the middle and the plot does not bear a great deal of scrutiny (behind the arthouse exterior there are a fair number of genre cliches at work) Julia's Eyes is, on the whole, an effective and stylishly-executed horror movie.