The Review: If you see any advertising material for a new movie, then chances are the first names you’re looking for are either the lead actors or the director, as often those names can be a mark of quality, or an indicator of a lack of it. Directors wield a huge amount of influence in the movies these days, but go back half a decade and that wasn’t always the case; originally the Hollywood system was run by the producers and the director was little more than an afterthought. But the name of a producer can still be used today to sell an audience on a product, from Steven Spielberg’s name plastered all over the Transformers movies to Peter Jackson’s District 9. Ideally the producer credit will still give the audience a good guide as to what to expect – if Emma Thompson gave up the Nanny McPhee movies and produced a slasher horror, we’d get more than a few traumatised seven year olds, but in this case the familiar name of Guillermo Del Toro is also an indicator of a familiar product.
So if you were thinking about Guillermo’s previous output, then you’d probably be thinking dark, twisted, unusual and Spanish, and you’d be right on all counts. Guillem Morales has co-written and directed, but you can see why Del Toro’s name is a good fit about the title. First off, the dark – if the title Julia’s Eyes isn’t already a give away, then eyes and vision are a consistent theme throughout the movie. Julia and Sara are twin sisters, and both suffer from a degenerative eye condition which is sending them both blind. Investigating Sara’s death, the police find nothing suspicious but Julia isn’t convinced and starts her own investigation. Working against her are her own condition, which worsens whenever she is under stress, and that fact that even her own husband is sceptical at first. As the clues mount and Julia’s condition worsens, the darkness creeps in both in terms of the light levels in the film itself and in the tone, which for the first half is an eerie mood piece centred around Julia’s investigations.
If anything, it’s that first half of the movie that lets down the whole, as the pace moves slowly and the creeping dread hasn’t yet been ratcheted up enough. But the second half allows the twisted aspects to unfold and the story twists and turns, increasing the atmosphere and throwing in a few more random scares for good measure. While you might think unusual with Del Toro, it’s the fascination with eyes that provides that, and what eventually reveals itself is a taut and effective thriller that quickens the pulse and entertains in equal measure, but while it’s a well made one the core story is nothing new in itself. The performances are strong, and Belén Rueda as Julia (or Sara) is in practically every scene and convinces on pretty much every level.
As with many of Del Toro’s other movies, it’s a universal tale that just happens to be in Spanish, and the washed out and grimy settings feel much more middle America than middle Spain. The other American feel comes from some of the later twists, which do have a feeling of daytime soap opera, admittedly one made in the style of a thriller. A word of warning, though – while the tension and the thrills increase in the second half, so does the level of visuals more commonly found in horror, and if like me you are squeamish about eyes then there’s at least one scene in the last reel that could leave you screaming or running for the exit. All in all it’s high marks for Del Toro the producer and for Morales the director, who makes excellent use of the visuals and uses both the light and the dark to great effect, it’s just a shame that Morales the writer lets the side down a bit – if the story hadn’t flagged early on and taken so long to get going, this could have been a feast for the eyes, rather than merely a good, solid watch.
Why see it at the cinema: There’s always something claustrophobic about seeing sequences set entirely in the dark in a large dark room, even if it is filled with other people, and Morales’ taut direction and the cinematography both make full use of the big screen.
The Score: 7/10