Scary things tend to live in the dark, both in real life and in horror films. Julia’s Eyes asks the question: what if you happen to be blind?
There are a lot of very odd European films that involve elements of horror interspersed with a European filmmaker’s personal understanding of romance. Julia’s Eyes manages to combine the themes of love and dependence with disability and horror in a way that’s going to discourage most people from turning the light off, even during the day.
Julia is a twin, and her sister Sara has killed herself after going blind from to a progressive disease that Julia is also suffering from. Julia’s eyesight will decrease by 10% if she experiences a great deal of stress. She’s had two episodes already and, given that this isn’t a family film, you can be sure that this is the horror equivalent of a cat’s nine lives.
Her investigation into her sister’s death is fascinating – with most films, I’ll take notes if I need to, keeping a keyboard close at hand. With Julia’s Eyes, I closed the Macbook with a swift snap two minutes in as I knew that to look away would be difficult. It’s not a film that allows for a quick toilet break – even a momentary gap will sow a sense of confusion when your get back – the clues come thick and fast, as do the changes in her location.
There’s very little to criticise, bar one particular scene that could’ve been less generic. At one point, Julia eavesdrops on a group of blind women talking about her sister, Sara. Now, this could’ve been shot in a cafe, or a waiting room, but instead was shot in a locker room, seemingly to cram as many naked women into the scene as possible – it feels ham-fisted, although seeing them cluster around her with eyes grey and hands outreached has a chill to it that’s hard to shake.
That generic convention aside, the rest of the film is stellar. The acting is solid throughout, and no one breaks character or causes you to question their body language. Julia and Sara are both played by Belén Rueda, a talented actor whose commitment to the role makes it easy to empathise with her steadily worsening sight and the conspiracy she becomes inextricably involved with. The cast around her – the husband, the care worker, the killer, the mysterious young girl – are also competent, and this speaks volumes about the difference between continental European and UK cinema – we’ll let it slide if Gerard Butler talks like a Glaswegian throughout 300, but it wouldn’t fly in Spain.
The first half of the film is a simple investigation, and just as you’re sucked into the mystery, gears shift and with a quick stab of personal tragedy, everything turns sinister.
There is a slight problem with the killer however. Their identity is really, really obvious – throughout the film. They’re a shadowy figure, yet when they join the good guys under another identity, the camera never shows you their face, so viewers may spend a good twenty minutes rolling their eyes. The reason for this is obvious given that the character who interacts with them is blind at the time, but it still seems a little brainless.
It’s an interesting exploration of a state most of us would find terrifying – blindness. The ability to see gives us at least one tool of self-defence, especially in the world of the horror film, and without that you’re utterly vulnerable. Scary stuff from Spain indeed, and definitely worth a watch if you’re sick of all the Saw sequels.