Letter From The Editor - Issue 69 - June 2019

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At The Picture Show
October 2011

Julia's Eyes

The blind woman and the invisible man

'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 impatient.

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 joint.

Read more by Chris Bellamy

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