AFI Fest 2010: Julia’s Eyes

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When introducing this entry in his producing career, Guillermo Del Toro mentioned a sequence that he had told first-time director Guillem Morales during the scripting process that he simply couldn’t, or shouldn’t, do on film – a twenty-minute sequence where the camera never shows anyone’s face. But Morales held firm and Del Toro trusted him to make it work, and make it work he did. Julia’s Eyes is a conscious throwback to early Italian giallos, the work of early Bava or Argento that walk the line between suspense and horror.

Julia suffers from a genetic disorder that causes blindness, exacerbated by stress, which can accelerate the loss of sight exponentially. Her sister had the same disorder, and her death opens the film – a death that was quickly ruled suicide by the authorities, but which Julia suspects but cannot prove was murder. As Julia investigates on her own, her sight deteriorates quickly, soon putting her in the same situations that led to her sister’s death, situations that spiral into ever-more disturbing physical and psychological places.

There’s perhaps not a lot here that hasn’t been done to some degree or another (the final sequence can easily be described as a mashup of Wait Until Dark and Rear Window), but it’s all done with such conviction, style, and an especially great sense of pacing and suspense that it’s hard to care, or even think about the fact that you’ve seen bits and pieces of this before. Everything is well-planned and foreshadowed, yet feels right and inevitable rather than cliched when it comes to fruition, and it still manages to throw some surprises your way. This is what classic suspense filmmaking should be – even when you can guess what’s coming up next, the way it happens or the time it happens still catches you deliciously off-guard.

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I mentioned in my post on Cargo (which was the midnight movie on Friday before Julia’s Eyes was the midnight movie on Saturday) that it didn’t build up to climactic moments very well and hence felt flat and without stakes – this building intensity is precisely what Julia’s Eyes did perfectly. I was on the edge of my seat for most of it, and never once felt tired despite its fairly subdued tone for a lot of the running time (the suspense is moody and character-based rather than non-stop action or terror), even though it was my eighth film in two days.

The producers and star Belén Ruda are the same as 2007’s atmospheric The Orphanage, which I watched recently and quite enjoyed, but Julia’s Eyes is a solider film, less bogged down by possible mysticism and without the overly optimistic ending. Rueda is given even more to do here, and carries off everything perfectly, and the camerawork definitely has some Argento-worthy moments. Good on Morales for writing something that seemed so hard to get across and then managing to get it across so perfectly, and Del Toro for seeing his potential and letting him loose. This is absolutely my type of horror film, full of foreboding and centered on characters I care about, and I couldn’t really have been happier with it.

Directed by: Guillem Morales
Written by: Guillem Morales and Oriol Paulo
Produced by: Guillermo Del Toro
Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Pablo Derqui, Francesc Orella
Country of Origin: Spain
Running Time: 132 min.

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Kurt
Guest

I found the movie high on craft, but not much beyond that. The director certainly knows how to make a scene work for maximum effect, otherwise, it seemed like more or less a basic run of the mill twilight zone episode in terms of story/theme/plot. Certainly worth a look, but not much lasting value. The lead actress (also of The Orphanage) is really good, she's a gorgeous lady, even if the cinematography chooses to photograph her in unflattering high-contrast lighting for most of the films running time.

Jandy
Guest

I believe I have already established that I'm a style whore, and this movie had style. 🙂

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

Agreed. This movie has it going on in the craft department.

Marina
Guest

"Style whore." So there *is* a name for that! I'm with you in that boat Jandy!

Bob Turnbull
Admin

I'm siding with Jandy here. Though I understand your point about the film being "workman-like" Kurt, I really enjoyed it. There's solid creepiness throughout and it even plays up some of the standard conventions ("Wait here while I go look…"). I liked it a great deal more than The Orphanage which, while gorgeously shot, annoyed me with shocks that it didn't bother to build up to and an ending I really did not like…

Is there really a 20 minute sequence without a shot of anyone's face though? Wow. I'm even more impressed because I didn't even notice that.

J. M. Vilaseca
Guest

I am involved in the movie, and it's really nice to browse overseas feedback and find some comments like this: "Is there really a 20 minute sequence without a shot of anyone’s face though?" 🙂

And that's how work pays back. I'm really glad you guys enjoyed the film. Now let's hope it gets a release in the US…

Kurt Halfyard
Admin

It would be crazy if this doesn't get a release, considering the success of The Orphanage, which made $7M, which is exceedingly high for a Spanish Language film in the US, and GdT's name always helps things. I think this film could easily be sold to the US/Canadian public.