'Julia's Eyes' is more proof that the international circuit is where horror is thriving
Julia's Eyes IFC Films
Director: Guillem Morales
Screenplay: Guillem Morales and Oriol Paulo
Starring: Belén Rueda, Lluís Homar, Francesc Orella, Daniel Grao, Pablo Derqui, Julia
Gutíerrez Caba, Joan Dalmau and Dani Codina
Rated R / 1 hour, 52 minutes
Now playing in limited release and VOD
(out of four)
I confess I have a limited frame of reference, but it seems to me Spanish and Mexican cinema
have a greater appreciation for horror than America currently does. For one thing, it was Mexico
that produced Guillermo del Toro, a master of horror and fantasy who has built an international
brand on those two genres. And it is he who has lent himself as a producer in recent years to a
number of other films - notably Juan Antonio Bayona's excellent The Orphanage and now
Guillem Morales' Julia's Eyes.
What strikes me is how much more thoughtful those two films are (not to mention del Toro
greats like Pan's Labyrinth and The Devil's Backbone) than what we typically get from
American horror - which consists largely of bogus teen slasher flicks, cheap gorefests and low-budget gimmick movies with franchise potential. (Oh yeah, and low-rent exorcism flicks. Seem
to be a lot of those going around these days.) Basically, anything that can be made on the cheap
and turn an instant profit.
It's not a genre the system puts a whole lot of effort toward anymore. The only time the studios
seem to really care about it is when zombies or vampires are involved - and even then, more
often than not they're dumbed down to reach adolescents and Twilight readers. (That was
redundant, I know.)
When was the last time you saw a big-budget American horror film that was also an actual
drama? It feels like we're being cheated. And given the strength of some of the imports we get, it
stands to reason there are some others good ones being made that simply aren't being distributed
in the U.S.
Our excuse for horror gets one-upped once again in Julia's Eyes, a thriller driven by
atmospherics and a lingering sense of dread. Sure, there are jump-scares now and then, but
Morales earns them - not like our movies, which are built entirely on jump-scares and fake-scary
music that all sounds the same.
Julia's Eyes stars Belén Rueda (who also toplined The
Orphanage) as a woman with a degenerative eye condition that will eventually cause her to go
blind. She already has fits of blindness, usually brought on by stress, and even her normal field
of vision is a bit spotty. Her husband, Isaac (Lluís Homar), is protective and loving, but
When the film opens, we see Julia's blind twin sister, Sara, in the last moments of her life. She is
terrified and suicidal, convinced that someone is in the house - someone she seems to know,
perhaps intimately. "I know you're in here," she says. The power is out, but Morales offers us
brief and tantalizing glimpses around the room whenever lightning flashes through the window.
We see nothing. Well, until the moment right before Sara dies, and even then, we're not quite
sure what we saw.
It's an exceptional opening sequence, not only setting the film's mood but offering clues to the
mystery Julia will find herself immersed in later on. The police find Sara's body hanging from a
noose in the cellar and immediately rule it a suicide. Julia has her doubts. Isaac, meanwhile,
doesn't want his wife getting too riled up concocting some unprovable defense of her twin
sister's state of mind. The police, after all, are convinced there's been no foul play.
Naturally, Julia's condition worsens. The film actually does quite a nice job using blindness as a
key plot detail throughout the film - sometimes as an obstacle, other times as a hiding place.
There's a great scene inside a locker room at the center for the blind where Sara spent much of
her time. Julia decides to check the place out, and does a bit of eavesdropping as the blind
women begin to chat about Sara. Until, of course, they detect that someone is in the room with
them. Julia fesses up, reveals herself, tells them what she's doing there. "Yes," they say. "But
who is that man that came in with you? He's standing right behind you."
Morales, who also co-wrote the script with Oriol Paulo, does a fine job holding off on his reveals
until he absolutely can't wait any longer. And even more impressively, he imbues the entire film
with the sort of genuine character tension you would usually look for elsewhere. And I have to
give extra credit to a film whose killer's motivation is something of an abstract metaphor. It's
not just a unique wrinkle, but, in some small way, a profound one. I'll just leave it at that.
It usually comes with the territory in a psychological horror film like this that each discovery and
each twist is going to bring with it its own set of questions and perhaps even gaping holes.
Julia's Eyes has its issues on that front, but it does a much better job of hiding them than do the
vast majority of its American contemporaries. Maybe I'm being selfish, but I think I'd like some
of our studios to bring Morales and Bayona to the American horror scene, if only to class up the