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.
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.