Synopsis: From producer Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth, The Orphanage) comes a tale of dread and terror from the darkest corners of reality. Julia, a woman suffering from a degenerative sight disease, finds her twin sister Sara hanged in the basement of her house. Everything points to suicide, but Julia is compelled to investigate what she intuitively feels is a murder case. Determined to retrace her sister’s final steps, she is drawn into a maze of hidden threats and spiraling dread – a dark world that seems to hide a mysterious, malevolent presence. As Julia begins to uncover clues to the truth of her sister’s death, those close to her begin to disappear. Her sight gone and confined to her sister’s house, Julia soon finds herself trapped in a nightmare from which she cannot awake.
eyelights: its basic premise. its gimmicks. Belén Rueda.
eyesores: its convolutions. its weak reveals.
Julia suffers from a degenerative ocular disorder which will someday render her blind. Her twin sister, Sara, lost her eyesight a year ago and has just been found hanged in her basement. There is no suicide note and a few indications suggest to Julia that she was not alone. Convinced that someone else was involved in her death, Julia goes on the hunt for clues.
As she digs deeper and deeper, she discovers the existence of a mysterious boyfriend in Sara’s life. Strangely, no one can seem to remember what he looks like. But Julia will soon come face-to-face with him – after her eyesight completely goes on her. Now she not only has to find her way through the darkness, but she also has to escape an unrelenting killer.
Such is basic premise of the Guillermo del Toro-produced Spanish motion picture ‘Los ojos de Julia’. Directed and co-written by Guillem Morales, the thriller comes across as a modern middle ground between Alfred Hitchcock and Dario Argento; it’s a picture rooted in a couple of intriguing gimmicks that then connects a series of twists and turns to reach its grand finale.
The greatest gimmick, of course, is Julia’s blindness. As her eyesight fades, we get to see the world through her eyes, growing blurrier by the day. And, later, as she makes her way around her world blind, we never get to see the faces of the people around her, even if we had seen them before; they have become faceless to her so we are prevented from seeing them.
The second best gimmick is her mysterious opponent, who is not actually invisible but has spent his life feeling as though he were – largely ignored as he is. I liked this aspect because there are people who go unnoticed, who fail to draw any attention to themselves, and I liked hat his greatest pain and motivator is the fact that he feels utterly unseen and irrelevant.
…hence why he is drawn to women who can’t see, but whom he isn’t invisible to.
He constantly lurks in the shadows, from the opening sequence that finds Sara talking to a seemingly empty house before putting her head in the noose, and throughout Julia’s own investigation – we never get to see anything but a form or a movement. It’s disturbing but it’s a trick that loses its ability to surprise you after a few attempts; you come to expect it
And even anticipate it.
When Julia goes blind, we no longer see the shadowman, but the creep factor comes from other sources, other characters. Unfortunately, this telegraphed the identity of the killer; it immediately seemed pretty obvious to me and no number of red herrings could distract me from my belief. So I basically just sat there waiting for the movie to confirm it.
While I was entertained, I can’t say that I was especially riveted by ‘Los ojos de Julia’; it’s a perfectly decent thriller, but nothing more – though it tries hard enough to distinguish itself. However, gimmicks simply aren’t enough to build a whole picture on – you need to care about the characters, and for this you need to familiarize yourself with them.
Unfortunately, Julia’s only truly notable attribute is her fearlessness, her ability to plunge forward into disquieting situations on her own, despite her growing disability. Beyond this, precious little is revealed about our protagonist: she’s married to Isaac, for some undisclosed reason she hadn’t spoken to Sara for 6 months, and she appears to be friendless.
That’s about it.
All of the other characters are even sketchier, of course, but, thankfully, Belén Rueda imbues Julia with an instant likeability that greatly benefits the character and the picture. She also covers a lot of emotional range with seeming ease – at no point was I unconvinced by the character, though I was quite surprised by how quickly Julia got over Sara’s death.
I suspect that this issue is more with the script than anything else, as it wasn’t beyond Rueda’s ability; it just didn’t account for her grief.
There were a number of other script issues along the way:
- The first clue, the CD player that starts up when the power comes back on, didn’t make sense because it would either have stayed shut down, or been on but not active – it wouldn’t have continued playing right where it left off; it’s not mechanical, like a record player or a tape deck.
So, inevitably, that clue is a cheat. Bad start.
- The clues are too conveniently handed to Julia. It’s like the writers came up with a series of necessary clues to get the character from point A to point B and then wrote a script that connects those clues together. Every time she’s given a clue it leads to the next one. Mucho artificial.
- There’s always someone creeping about in the house. Like, always. Seriously. Don’t they have locks in Spain? Or even security alarms? I swear to God, if there was always someone lurking about, I’d be arming myself at all times and bolting everything behind me. But they don’t do that in Spain.
- There are too many fake scares for my taste, including this one nightmare sequence that was so outlandish that it had to be a nightmare. So why even try to scare us when it’s a moot point? Just make it interesting or creepy, but allow us to enjoy it for what it is, not ram it down our throats.
- At the tail end of the second act, there’s a string of creeps after Julia: first the stalker, then the neighbour, and then another – all one right after the other. I mean, really, is she a creep-magnet? Give it a rest, already! I know they wanted to raise the tension, but it got ridiculous.
- Julia had surgery to fix her eyes and was told not to remove her bandages under any circumstances until two weeks later – or else she’d lose her sight permanently. So what does she do? She removes them with four days left to try to escape the killer – even though it will complicate her escape.
Thankfully, this lead to an interesting sequence in which she pretends to be blind even though the killer is threatening her with a knife – right in her face. I liked that she played it cool, I really did, but the effortlessness with which she did it under his continued pressure was patently absurd.
Let’s just say that it’s doubtful anyone could sustain this effectively in real life – not even Meryl Streep.
Having said this, for all its flaws ‘Los ojos de Julia’ certainly wasn’t dull; I’m sure it would prove adequate for many audiences. It just doesn’t hold up to scrutiny and it doesn’t feel realistic; it comes off as wholly fabricated. But then, perhaps it was never intended to be credible.
If anything, it was designed to be gripping, to leave its audience white-knuckled.
And that’s perfectly okay.
Date of viewing: October 8, 2016