By Jessica Kiang.
You know when a filmmaker has transcended his profession and truly become a ‘brand’, when it’s his name that hangs above the title of a film that he probably had minimal involvement in actually making. And so it is now with Guillermo del Toro, the visionary director of the sublime “Pan’s Labyrinth” and the “Hellboy” movies, because while he is not the director of Spanish-language horror/thriller “Julia’s Eyes” (that honour goes to Guillem Morales, also the co-writer), it is his name that it is being sold on. “Guillermo del Toro presents…” scream the posters, and in this case, as in his previous “presentation” “The Orphanage” it’s a canny marketing tool, giving the film an auteur’s seal of approval, while also promoting del Toro to an almost Hitchcockian-level of name recognition within this particular genre.
And for the most part, “Julia’s Eyes” doesn’t disappoint. While undoubtedly a tad overlong, and a lot more schlocky and lacking in the melancholy resonance that made the “The Orphanage” so effective, it nonetheless delivers some giggly thrills and good old-fashioned gross-out moments (eyeball injections, anyone?), to make for a satisfyingly low-brow night at the movies.
The story follows the prescribed ideal of the “hot blind woman in peril” subgenre, but adds a “twin sisters” angle for maximum soap opera-ness: upon the apparent suicide of her twin, who suffered the same degenerative eye disease that she does, Julia and her husband Isaac come to settle her affairs. Julia (played by “The Orphanage”’s Belen Rueda, with constant visual reference to her amazing boobs) becomes convinced that a (literally) shady man was somehow involved in her sister’s death and, as she starts to lose her own sight, and possibly her mind, a series of connected deaths seem to bear this out.
It’s twisty and turny and some of the plot somersaults don’t nail their landings but if you go with it, you get more than enough fun along the way to overlook the slight letdown that is the rather prosaic ending. “Julia’s Eyes” may not be a classic, but if you need a reason to go, at least it has more wit and invention than most recent Hollywood horrors – the vast majority of which feel, ironically, rather like sticking needles in your eyes.