Julia’s Eyes (Los ojos de Julia) is a Spanish horror film produced by Guillermo del Toro – which you would assume means that he gave it his seal of approval but it is no ‘Pan’s Labyrinth’ or ‘The Orphanage’. The eponymous Julia is played (very well) by Belén Rueda who I last saw in The Orphanage. She is a investigating the death of her twin sister who has apparently committed suicide. Julia has a degenerative eye condition that means that she gets gradually more blind when they are stressed, he twin went totally blind from it. This makes Julia probably the worst possible person to get preyed upon by a psycho which is inevitably what happens. I can’t think of a more unfortunate trait to have in a horror film, maybe if Julia glowed and emitted a beeping noise when in the dark or if her limbs fell off when she got spooked. She is in for a hard time, basically.
Especially because the killer in question has perfected the art of being invisible. He/she is able to move around unnoticed by virtue – I guess – of having an unassuming manner and forgettable face. This is built up as if it is some sort of superpower to the point where I wasn’t sure if they were literally meant to be invisible. But it’s just dumb, and so is the dubious psychology behind their motive and their utterly illogical actions which I don’t want to spoil but which often make absolutely no sense. It gets to the stage where they are basically just plucking motivations out of the air in order to fuel the story.
It’s funny, just the other day I was talking about characters behaving realistically or competently in horror films, because in Hush the hero is very practical and it was so refreshing to watch. Julia, by way of contrast, is a moron. I face-palmed three times and I am not one for unnecessary physical activity. First things first – if you know you will go blind when you get stressed, try not to get stressed! It’s really important! Julia seems to relish every opportunity to dive headlong into danger, though to be fair she gets no help from her dick of a husband who basically says ‘forget about this foolishness’ when Julia thinks her twin has been murdered. Yeah just stop worrying about that little trifle, get over it you hysterical woman.
There is a part of the film where Julia is completely blind, and in this section none of the other character’s faces are shown. At first I found this contrived but I came to realise it was actually quite a good technique that helped me imagine Julia’s sense of confusion and how she didn’t know who to trust or what was going on. The only problem was that it was obvious what was going on to everyone but Julia. Julia was being stupid again, first of all insisting that she didn’t want to stay in the hospital, but would rather go to the creepy house that has no electricity where her sister died because she ‘knew the way around’ despite the fact that she is totally blind, she suspects her sister was murdered and the killer is still out there, and she obviously doesn’t know the way around because she walks into everything. Facepalm number one. She is looked after by a care worker called Ivan. Suspense during this time is utterly undermined by the fact that the film shows you what is going on if you pay attention, it spoilers it’s own twist for no good reason except to make Julia look dumb.
A little gauge on the side of the screen that showed how much vision she had remaining would have been very useful: halfway through the film Julia effectively collects a power up and gets her vision reset to 100%. This is done in order to enable many more contrived situations which I have to admit were sometimes quite good fun, like the tea scene. Julia uses ambiguity about how much she can see to her advantage and for a moment redeems herself by being moderately shrewd. Unfortunately she blows it in the most obvious ruse imaginable: she is told to look at something and she reacts despite it being pretty obvious and despite her life depending on not reacting. Facepalm number two. Unfortunately by this stage I was basically on the murderer’s side: some people are just asking for it.
However at one point the killer does probably the stupidest thing I have ever seen a villain do in a film: they drive Julia somewhere then they get out of the car, goes around to open her door… and she locks it. Then she locks the other doors. The killer surely must say ‘D’oh!’ in Spanish. Facepalm number 3. All she has to do now is honk the horn continuously and draw attention… but no, she releases the handbrake and rolls the car down a small hill into a wall, then gets out and runs away totally blind.
The thing is, the film is well directed (even if it relies on cheap shocks sometimes) and well acted and the concept is pretty good, it’s just the plot that is ludicrous. The film would be better cut down by about half an hour (it is far too long at two hours) and ideally some of the more absurd concepts should be removed – like the killer’s nonsensical motivation. I found it too hard to root for Julia who admittedly was having a hard time, but did seem to be bringing a lot of it on herself: she wasn’t merely headstrong and determined, she was reckless and careless and frankly moronic. A lot of her actions were really questionable – for example taking off the blindfold despite it being a guarantee of permanent blindness – why not just peep out from under it sometimes?
However, probably the worst sin a film like this can make is that it is not suspenseful or scary. It’s occasionally interesting because you want to find out who the killer is – but you can get the exact same level of interest from an episode of Murder She Wrote, I would have preferred the film if they had played up the mystery element more instead of the horror. I read reports of other people finding the film tense and even grisly or scary, I’m sorry but I can’t get that at all. The potential for horror is there – especially if you are squeamish about eyes – but it is never exploited: any suspense is quickly diminished by people acting far too casually about the danger they are in or so stupidly that it is hard to be sympathetic. The killer is set up as a lurker in the shadows and a silent, fiendish tormentor but quickly is revealed to just be some idiot who isn’t so much sinister as kinda pathetic.
And finally, the whole ‘universe in your eyes’ thing is so tacky that it made me think less of Julia for being in love with her dick of a husband.
This review is quite full of vitriol which is unusual for me – I think the problem is that the film is just so disappointing. Spanish horror is among the best in the world at the moment, del Toro is a genius, the acting is good, the direction is good, the concept is solid, most reviews are apparently full of praise and yet the film is just nonsense. It’s such a shame.