This satisfyingly spooky, but generally unremarkable, Spanish horror thriller stars the wonderful Belen Rueda, an actress probably most familiar to British audiences for her powerful turn in 2008’s chiller The Orphanage. In fact, Julia’s Eyes not only features that movie’s leading lady, once again grappling with eerie surroundings and terrifying situations, but is also shares a rather famous producer: a certain Guillero del Toro, the man who directed Pan’s Labyrinth, and was for a while supposed to be directing The Hobbit. This is one of three producer-projects he has out this summer. The others are scare-fest Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, and Dreamworks’ Kung Fu Panda 2. Clearly nobody could ever accuse him of not being diverse.
Julia’s Eyes, directed by relatively new filmmaker Guillem Morales, works well as a standard jump-and-gasp horror. Rueda, who is perhaps Spain’s answer to Cate Blanchett, plays Julia, a woman desperate to discover the truth behind her blind sister’s suicide. Like her sister, Julia has sight difficulties; a congenital illness which causes her to slowly lose the use of her eyes. She and her husband Isaac stay in her sister’s creepy, creaky house while she tries to understand what made her sister take her own life, and learn the identity of her mysterious ‘boyfriend’ – a man who is seemingly invisible.
The mystery is more Stephen King than Agatha Christie, and succeeds in drawing us in with its fast-moving narrative and restless pace. It doesn’t waste time in delivering the chills, although some more moments of reflection may have been nice to flesh out the rather hazily drawn characters. One of the great aspects of The Orphanage was its ability to both scare and move in equal measure, causing its audiences to wipe away tears of both fear and sadness. This, unfortunately, serves up the scares but ignores the emotional weight of some of the more distressing aspects of the plot. There is some attempt at soul-searching towards the end, but this sadly comes over as a tad too sentimental rather than deeply affecting.
There is also the question of whether we would be so forgiving of the movie’s failings if it wasn’t Spanish. If it had been identical in execution, performance and production values, but had been in American-accented English, would it have attracted as much critical recognition?
However, despite not being a European masterpiece, there is still much to enjoy here, and Rueda’s performance is compelling enough to make the film’s hysterical finale that little bit less ridiculous.