As a primarily visual medium, film is often concerned with the concept of sight. Whilst the vision of the characters depicted drives the story, the inherent acceptance by audiences of the imagery placed before them is also of importance, with astute auteurs playing with both to subvert expectations. Accordingly, Alfred Hitchcock mastered the aesthetic and narrative ruse as demonstrated in the likes of Vertigo and Psycho, with Stanley Kubrick and David Lynch subsequently following his lead with A Clockwork Orange and Eyes Wide Shut, and Blue Velvet and Mulholland Drive respectively. In smart and stylish features, each director has toyed with the reality and perception perceived by the protagonists and presented to the viewers, resulting in films that intrigue, excite and engage as well as challenge and compel. In an homage to the wealth of innovative efforts that have gone before, and a knowing nod to the horror movies of late that have tried yet failed to capture the crucial spark pertinent to optically inclined offerings (American remakes of Japanese features, such as The Ring and The Eye, for example), Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia) ponders whether seeing really is believing. Directed by Guillem Morales (The Uncertain Guest) and co-written by the helmer and TV scripter Oriol Paulo (El cor de la ciutat), the Spanish thriller explores the impact of images in shaping our world view.
With the familiar refrain of Burt Bacharach’s “The Look Of Love” scoring a stormy evening’s activities, Julia’s Eyes opens with a woman on the verge of taking her own life. Alone and unable to perceive her surroundings due to a degenerative sight condition, Sara (Belén Rueda, The Sea Inside) wavers in her decision, until an unseen assailant completes the act for her. At the very same instant a vast distance away, Sara’s estranged sister Julia (also played by Rueda) commences choking for no apparent reason. Cognisant of an unsettling air originating from her absent sibling, Julia embarks on a journey with her psychologist husband Isaac (Lluís Homar, Broken Embraces) to piece together their fractured family. Upon arrival in her home town, the grim reality that greets Julia sets in motion a strange series of events, seemingly linked to the stress-induced progressive and hereditary blindness that threatens to claim her sight. Determined to get to the bottom of the circumstances surrounding her dearly departed sister, Julia begins to investigate her friends and acquaintances to ascertain the reasoning behind Sara’s unexplained demise, with the answers that eventuate leading to more questions, and the characters encountered – including neighbour Blasco (Boris Ruiz, Tramontana), nurse Iván (Pablo Derqui, Of Love And Other Demons) and detective Dimas (Francesc Orella, Three Days With The Family) – concerning in their involvement.
An old-fashioned murder mystery with a modern horror twist, Julia’s Eyes spells out its intentions from the outset. Indeed, even the film’s moniker provides a pertinent clue to the events that unravel, indicating the organs at the centre of the feature, as well as the perspective thrust upon the viewer. Dropping hints to the puzzle from the first frame and sustaining the frenetic pace throughout, the familiar yet frightening film – recalling a range of similar Spanish efforts from Alejandro Amenábar’s Open Your Eyes and The Others to producer Guillermo del Toro’s The Devil’s Backbone and Pan’s Labyrinth – teases and taunts as it twists and turns. Combining striking cinematography with an effective use of suspense (as aptly demonstrated in an early scene involving Julia’s attempts at espionage in a locker room filled with visually impaired women, as well as countless instances of chase sequences illuminated by light and shadow in darkened hallways), the atmospheric offering exists in an uncertain realm, juxtaposing what Julia sees in her head with what she sees with her eyes. As her vision falters, the gap between the two widens, with the audience – like the titular character – suitably baffled. With everything and nothing as it seems, the convention-heavy, slightly over-long effort cultivates a maze of misdirection, in a feature as tense and terrifying as it is clever and creepy.
Julia’s Eyes is currently screening in Australia as part of the Spanish Film Festival.