Julia’s Eyes -- Film Review

Stylish filmmaking can’t overcome a contrived storyline

The producers of the well-received 2007 Spanish feature "The Orphanage" collaborate again on "Julia’s Eyes," a psychological thriller that topped Spain’s box office for two straight weeks this fall, distributed by Universal Pictures International. Although the film ultimately squanders an intriguing premise, it scores some entertaining shocks along the way. With Guillermo del Toro again producing, name-brand recognition and savvy marketing could position the film for modest theatrical returns, although ancillary probably offers more captive eyeballs.

When Julia’s (Belén Rueda) twin sister Sara has hangs herself, her husband Isaac (Lluis Homar) and the police attribute the tragedy to Sara’s despair over her degenerative eye disease, which also affects Julia and left her sister nearly blind in the end. Julia senses something amiss, however, and probes deeper into events during the last few weeks before her Sara’s death.

Everywhere she turns, strange, suspicious people turn up, including her sibling’s vindictive acquaintances at the local center for the blind, a creepy neighbor and his mentally unstable daughter, and the shut-in blind woman living nearby, whom Sara frequently visited.

As Julia investigates further, she becomes convinced that she’s being stalked by an elusive, menacing presence, but neither the cops nor her husband believes that there’s anything amiss. So when Isaac goes missing and also turns up hanged, events turn truly sinister, as the cumulative stress accelerates the deterioration of Julia’s vision.

An operation to replace her diseased eyes forces Julia to wear bandages around her head as the surgery heals. But when she moves into Sara’s house to recuperate, Julia senses her pursuer closing in.

Director Guillem Morales and co-writer Oriol Paulo have an excellent sense of pacing and provide plenty of emotional jolts, increasingly ratcheting up the tension as Julia’s eyesight fades. Pitching the film’s tone more toward suspense keeps the narrative accessible, but as the twists accumulate in the final reels, too much of a good thing weights down the plot.

Despite an overwrought script, Morales and cinematographer Oscar Faura achieve a striking visual style. Evocatively underlit scenes and subtle digital effects nicely mimic Julia’s failing eyesight. Combined with the more gothic elements — creepy houses, stormy nights and distorted camera angles — the overall effect is pleasingly chilling.

Rueda plays Julia with an impressive mix of determination and vulnerability. Appearing in nearly every scene, her fully committed performance far outshines the other actors, although in fairness the movie is so focused on Julia that about all anyone else can do is follow Rueda’s lead.

Production values, editing, visual effects and score are all top-drawer. 

Production: Rodar y Rodar and Antena 3 Films
Cast: Belén Rueda, Lluis Homar, Pablo Derqui, Francesc Orella
Director: Guillem Morales
Screenwriters: Oriol Paulo, Guillem Morales
Producer: Joaquin Padró
Executive Producers: Joaquin Padró, Mar Targarona, Guillermo del Toro
Director of photography: Joan Manel Vilaseca
Production designer: Balter Gallart
Music: Fernando Velázquez
Editor: Joan Manel Vilaseca
Not rated, 132 minutes