One of two horror films produced by Guillermo Del Toro opening on the same week (the other being the U.S.-made "Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
"), the Spanish-lensed "Julia's Eyes" is bound to draw closer comparisons with 2007's "The Orphanage
," a near-perfect supernatural thriller also sharing Del Toro's producing credit and the same wonderful lead actress, Belén Rueda. Whereas "The Orphanage
" impeccably blended startling, seat-jumping frights with increasing audience apprehension, a provocative mystery, and an ultimately tragic story about loss, "Julia's Eyes" is just as twisty but not nearly as deep. What writer-director Guillem Morales and co-writer Oriol Paulo make certain is that viewers will keep on guessing as a pall of dread looms over the head of the film's increasingly blind but equally savvy heroine.
When her twin sister Sara is found hanging in the basement of her home, the victim of an apparent suicide, Julia (Belén Rueda) stays distraught only long enough to clear her head and get down to the business of proving foul play was involved. Sara, who suffered from a degenerative loss of sight, apparently had just undergone surgery to reverse her blindness. Why would someone go through such a procedure only to take their own life? With Julia's own sight perilously fading with each dayshe, too, suffers from the diseaseshe moves closer to a truth involving her missing husband Isaac (Lluís Homar) and a mystery man lurking in the darkness who might hold the answers to Sara's death, and her own fate.
"Julia's Eyes" gathers unmistakable inspiration from Alfred Hitchcock, Henri-Georges Clouzot (particularly his 1955 classic "Diabolique"), and Brian De Palma (shades of 1980's "Dressed to Kill
," especially), and this firm grasp on all things suspenseful is enough to overcome a film that, when it all comes down to it, is more a conventional cat-and-mouse game than a truly satisfying or ingenious mystery. A lot of the goings-on can be guessed ahead of time, actually, though the choice to play out the tension-driving climax with Julia attempting to believably keep the upper hand from a killer in her midst is nicely woven. An earlier scene set in the locker room of a center for the blind is even creepier, while the ending goes too squishy, hinging unconvincingly on the sympathetic power of a relationship the viewer knows has been based in lies and betrayal. "Julia's Eyes" doesn't mean much more than what shows up on the surface of the screen, but it's a cinematic exercise that certainly puts a person on edge. Director Guillem Morales knows his way around the genre, and he cements this knowledge repeatedly.