Julia’s Eyes is the second Spanish horror film to come with the ‘Presented By’ label from Guillermo del Toro, following the huge success of fantastic gothic chiller The Orphanage, which also starred Belén Rueda. Julia’s Eyes is a suspense-thriller with something that many recent horror films don’t have: characters.
The film follows Julia (Rueda), a woman who is progressively losing her eyesight due to a degenerative disease. She stumbles upon the body of her dead sister Sara, who had gone blind already due to the same disease. Sara seems to have committed suicide, but Julia is unconvinced, and mounts an investigation into her sister’s death. Though the police and her husband Isaac (Lluís Homar) remain sceptical, she continues, coming to believe that a strange and unseen presence is watching over her. As her eyesight deteriorates, the dangers that lurk in the shadows come out to attack.
Director Guillem Morales imbues the film with a similar mystery format to The Orphanage, but this film uses an entirely different aesthetic, recalling primarily the thrillers of Alfred Hitchcock and Italian giallo films (for example, the work of Mario Bava or Dario Argento). Several scenes revolve entirely around a sinister prop, not unlike the bag of money in Psycho, and the mysterious man wears black gloves, a giallo staple. In fact, in one scene in which the man is chased down a dark corridor by Julia and a line of flickering fluorescent lights, Morales manages to outdo anything by Argento. The camerawork is frequently impressive, especially towards the end in which a variety of characters move about without their faces ever being shown. As well as this the film has a couple of inventive scares along the way. Stylistically, the film is a great success, making it a very exciting and entertaining thriller.
However, the characters are the film’s most important calling cards. For a start, you care about what will happen to Julia. Belén Rueda delivers another powerful and completely convincing performance that refuses to be shaped and diluted by the otherworldly goings-on in the film. Homar, who plays her loving husband, complements her very well. Their relationship is conveyed in a very tender way, making these people adults rather than fodder to a twisting plot…for the most part.
Unfortunately, as the film progresses, it does try too hard to surprise, adding a few too many twists and turns to a plot that doesn’t need them. The characters fall into cipher mode to accommodate a few not particularly surprising moments and it all threatens to fall apart. Thankfully, the film doesn’t go too far down this road, recovering for a fairly touching ending.
Julia’s Eyes is a rollicking and exciting film, which doesn’t overstay its welcome long enough to tarnish the whole experience. It is a highly entertaining film with eye-catching visuals and real people that are worth caring about. Things get silly but the film remains a good thriller with a powerful atmosphere, made with genuine skill and heart.