Julia's Eyes is a Spanish psychological horror thriller, and the closing night selection at the 2011 Spanish Film Festival. Though directed by Guillem Morales and starring Belen Rueda (The Orphanage), it is Guillermo Del Toro (Pan's Labyrinth) whose name is highlighted on all the promotional material. I don't know the extent of his involvement in the project, but the film is let down by an incoherent and predictable screenplay that struggles to remain engaging throughout the lengthy running time. Effectively utilising a number of traditional horror techniques and applying several ambitious misdirections, the evidently large production budget also ensured the film's stylish cinematography was exceptional.
Julia (Rueda) is suffering from an inherited medical condition that is slowly robbing her eyesight. Her twin sister Sara shares the same affliction and has recently undergone an unsuccessful operation to reverse her transition into blindness. When Julia learns of her sister's death by suicide, she refuses to believe the police report. Along with her husband Isaac (Luis Homar), Julia begins questioning Sara's neighbours and retracing her recent past in search of a mysterious male friend who may be involved in her death. The stress of the loss and the unpleasant events that start to happen around her causes Julia's eyesight to rapidly diminish. She is tormented by an 'Invisible Man', and suffers several chilling confrontations in her attempts to unravel the mystery.
Morales really excels in building a chilling atmosphere, with nearly every setting appearing to hide an unseen force. The 'Invisible Man' that haunts Julia seems to exist as a spectre, appearing at the immediate moment that Julia is left alone. This happens far too often, and in really obvious ways. Distracted by movement or a noise, Julia investigates and ends up in a compromised state of shock or pursuing the shadowy tormentor through a labyrinth of basements and tunnels. After an exciting build up, it all becomes a bit too monotonous and predictable, and disappointingly resolved.
My interest began to waver in the middle, but I thought the decision to have Julia feign her affliction was a good one. The point-of-view shot of the 'Invisible Man' evading capture is also memorable. There is one particular nightmare sequence that is so obviously a nightmare that the revelation of this fact has no effect whatsoever. The supporting characters are so cloudy that we are never really sure whether they exist as figments of her imagination. They function solely to push the plot forward with a piece of information to aid Julia's investigation, and to force us to question their involvement in the whole affair. Some of the twists come across as ludicrous and inconsequential.
Belen Rueda gives a commanding central performance, building a believable character who is scared by her worsening ailment - vulnerable, but strong and independent at the same time. The film takes every opportunity to tell us that Julia is fiercely independent, as she frequently rejects the assistance of her male companions, most notably the initial assignment of the nurse. Morales' intention was to shoot the film as though we were watching it entirely from Julia's perspective. When she is severely suffering from a lapse in her sight, the image is clouded and the visuals difficult to make out.
For most of the film, we never actually see the face of the 'Invisible Man', but catch a glimpse of his back, side, or lower torso. This technique is used on every character she interacts with while she is bandaged recovering her operation. As Julia is blind to the world around her, we are too. This should be an effective technique in building suspense, but it becomes frustrating after a while. Rueda finds herself in a similar situation to her character in The Orphanage, as a woman dedicated to discovering the truth to a mystery that is plaguing her conscience. Unsupported by her disbelieving husband, she suffers a series of inexplicable supernatural events that threaten her sanity.
While there were some impressive visuals, some clever plot misdirections and a few jump scares; Julia's Eyes doesn't sit in the same league as a film like The Orphanage. I wound up pretty disappointed.
My Rating: 2 1/2 Stars (C-)