A Spanish horror film reteaming the producer and leading lady of The Orphanage, is Julia’s Eyes worth seeing? We at GeekChocolate certainly suggest you take a peek from behind the blindfold – unless you happen to be squeamish…
There is sadness in seeing a film and knowing that the majority of the potential audience will remain indifferent to it, simply because it is listed with the obligatory disclosure “subtitled,” as though it was something to apologise for. Let’s face it, if it’s any good, Hollywood will remake it soon enough, right? Perhaps so, but it doesn’t mean that new version will be in any way equal to the original.
Les Ojos de Julia is perhaps more fortunate than most, in that it is receiving widespread distribution in the multiplexes, flaunted under the banner of producer Guillermo del Toro, perhaps because he is one of the few foreign language directors regarded as a strong marketing proposition, possibly because horror is a primarily visual and experiential film genre, or maybe because horror audiences are, by their very nature, adventurous.
The premise is simple: twin sisters, played by Belén Rueda, as powerful here as she was in El Orfanato, suffer from a degenerative condition. Sara has been fully blind for several months, and as Julia’s vision deteriorates, her husband Isaac begs her not to allow the condition to be exacerbated by stress. But when Sara is found dead, Julia refuses to believe it was suicide, saying someone must have been in the house with her, and she starts her own investigation, regardless of the impact on her own health.
Talking to locals, Julia hears stories of a man without light, able to walk past others without being noticed, and becomes convinced this is the man responsible for Sara’s death, but as her world turns to shadow and she comes to rely on her other senses, Julia realises she may be the only one with the ability to track him.
As her health deteriorates, the film becomes darker, both visually and tonally. Isolated and increasingly disturbed, the screen echoes Julia’s desperation, becoming crowded with shadows, distorted by aberrations and blind spots. Blindfolded by her doctor to protect her delicate eyes following surgery, the frame shifts from the faces of the characters to their hands, to what Julia can discern by touch.
There are moments of overt and obvious horror – children should never play with kitchen carving knives – but also images that are more disturbing for their surreal intrusion. Tracing her sister’s movements, Julia visits the local blind support centre, and walks amongst a group of middle aged women changing after swimming, an unseen intrusion, a voyeuristic betrayal of their trust, not realising that soon she will be the one who is vulnerable, unable to tell who is watching her.
Unlike modern American studio horror, where the true horror is having to endure too pretty children wilfully act stupidly and selfishly to deliver themselves to the next tiresomely gruesome contrived cruelty, Julia’s Eyes is a traditional horror, in that it is made of shadow and suggestion, of the fear of illness and transformation, the terror of being entirely dependant on another, of letting a stranger into your most intimate life and trusting them, when all you know of them is their voice, and words that may be lies.
For Julia, the horror is in her mind, the gap between what she is told by her husband, the police and her carer, and what she believes may be a more terrifying truth she cannot prove. Inevitably, the audience are forced to share her fate in a near pitch black denouement, illuminated only in the frozen tableaux of a camera flash, where Julia proves herself to be that other antithesis of modern American horror – a leading lady who fights back.