Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia) 2010
Director: Guillem Morales
Writers: Guillem Morales (screenplay), Oriol Paulo (screenplay)
Stars: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui |
Guillermo Del Toro, the man responsible for The Orphanage, Pan’s Labyrinth, Don’t be Afraid of the Dark, and TV’s The Strain produces a film without a single ghost, monster, homunculus, or vampire. What makes Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia) so compelling is that in never loses its footing in reality, creating a tense and anxious atmosphere throughout.
Official Synopsis: “Julia (Belen Rueda), a woman suffering from degenerative sight disease, finds her twin sister Sara, who has already gone blind as a result of the same disease, hanged in the basement of her house. In spite of the fact that everything points to suicide, Julia decides to investigate what she intuitively feels is a murder case, entering a dark world that seems to hide a mysterious presence.”
At first, the film seems to present a bundle of familiar troupes: A blind woman pursued by a sinister presence, a suicide that may or may not hide a crime & a family member’s refusal to accept the apparent truth, and a presence that seems both human and ethereal are a few examples. But Julia’s Eyes soon becomes a multi-tiered enigma as one mystery reveals another—and yet another.
Belen Rueda (The Orphanage) drives the film as the titular protagonist. She’s an astronomer who works at an observatory, a woman with access to truly spectacular visions—which makes the prospect of going blind all the more terrifying. It’s a primal fear, as old as fear of the dark, and Rueda conveys this powerful dread with palpable efficiency. Viewers feel her desperation as we struggle to make a clear picture out of shadowy images before the lights go out forever. Rueda is also effective as a character who stands with conviction in spite of a less than iron grip on reality: Classic modern Gothic motifs.
Below the surface, Julia’s Eyes is an exploration of themes including sight and invisibility. As Julia struggles with failing eyesight, she is no longer able to make out shadowy corners of reality. When you can’t trust your eyes, nothing is certain. But in a brilliant subversion of expectations, writer/director Guillem Morales creates a situation where blindness actually serves as a layer of protection for Julia as she seeks to outsmart her ghostlike pursuer.
The exploration of invisibility in Julia’s Eyes is especially poignant. The shadowy villain evades detection in Julia’s blindness, but we are startled to find that even those without vision impairment are unable to recall him with any distinction. He’s beyond a chameleon as an antagonist hiding in plain sight, a presence who evades detection, not through stealth but complete non-distinction. He’s a person you can look at a dozen times and yet never be able to describe.
The filmmakers succeed in their use of lighting and perspective to convey themes and anxieties. There are moments when we actually see through Julia’s Eyes, and we share in her frustration and despair. When the killer is revealed, we struggle in vain to place him from earlier scenes, but are also unable to penetrate the darkest shadows.
The film becomes a bit tedious in the Third Act just when it should be ratcheting up the tension and momentum. Other complaints have to do with overdone clichés, namely the heavy-handed Harbinger who speaks in riddles, and the blind women with superhuman senses of smell and hearing. But the mystery that drives it all is, for the most part, original and compelling enough to forgive these weaknesses.
Julia’s Eyes offers a wonderful piece of advice: Never trust a man with a lock on his freezer.
All in all, Julia’s Eyes is a wonderful example of Spanish horror; people who enjoyed the recent The Skin I Live In and just about any film in the Del Toro cannon will also appreciate this film. Flawed but extremely effective and wonderfully emoted, Julia’s Eyes is a powerful melding of suspense and dread. Those looking for a typical slash-em-up flick overflowing blood and boobies won’t find much to love about it, but fans of nuanced storytelling and sustained tension will be most satisfied.
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