FEBRUARY 2, 2012
It might be an issue for some viewers, but one of Julia’s Eyes' (Los Ojos De Julia) greatest strengths is its refusal to stick with one genre for very long, keeping you from ever getting too comfortable or feeling like you know where the story is going. It starts off as a mystery, dips into Giallo territory for a while (!), and finally enters the realm of cat and mouse thriller. And it’s all wrapped up in a fairly touching drama about a woman dealing with the loss of both her husband and her sight.
That it’s produced by Guillermo Del Toro is not too surprising. Not only is it similar in tone to The Orphanage, it also has the same lead actress: the utterly wonderful Belén Rueda, whom I can only assume has no interest in transferring to Hollywood – if they haven’t been after her for high profile roles in studio movies, they’re even more insane than I thought. She plays twins here, but since the movie is more or less about a woman trying to find out why her sister killed herself you can rightfully assume that her second role is fairly brief. I figured they might have flashbacks or something to give her more fun with the dual role, but once she’s gone (a few minutes into the movie) we barely see her again. No matter, Rueda is in nearly every frame of the film, and if I were in the mood for bad jokes I’d say something like “we see the entire movie through her eyes even as she loses them”.
But Del Toro also brings his trademark genre blending; a bit horror, a bit romance, a bit mystery… not to mention that, as usual, his villains have a bit of humanity to them. Our guy here IS a killer, but there’s a sympathetic slant to his actions that makes him a lot more interesting than most of his type. Especially when it’s fair to compare the movie to a Giallo – most Giallo villains barely even have a coherent motive, let alone strong characterization. At first I was surprised that his identity was revealed so long before the movie’s end, but again, the film never settles into a real routine, so it’s not really an issue (not that there are many possibilities for the killer’s identity anyway).
I was also surprised how well the mystery tied into the slight romance plot. Our heroine’s husband doesn’t want her looking into it, so she has to hide it from him. Thus when she suggests a weekend trip, he thinks she’s trying to go along with his wishes, but in reality the hotel she suggests is one where her sister was seen a few days before she died. The pieces of the puzzle are revealed at a pretty good rate, and the story gets more intriguing with each one, which is sadly rare in these kind of stories. More often than not, the more you find out the less interesting it all is, so it’s fun to be drawn in along with the characters for a change. There is one aspect to the back-story that is a bit unnecessary (and, unless I missed a line or two, possibly just made up), but it still held my interest.
And writer/director Guillem Morales always pays off each bit with a fun scare, most of which are somewhat unexpected. For example, Rueda learns that her sister frequented a physical therapy place nearby, and when she arrives she overhears the other guests talking not too flatteringly of her sister. And since they’re all blind, she is able to eavesdrop without them noticing, until one catches her scent. So you think the scene will carry out with her trying to get out before they discover her, except they DO find her after a few moments… only for one of them to realize someone else is there too. This is where the Giallo elements start to come into play – our guy has the tendency to show up pretty much everywhere, and he even has black gloves for good measure. One could question the logic of it, but if you think about him/his goals as a whole (once they’re revealed), it’s pretty solid.
Less successful is part of what alerts Rueda that there must be more to her sister’s death than the police have told her, because a particular song was on her stereo and “she HATED that song!” As we learn as the story goes on, the two weren’t really close anymore, so how she’d be so aware of her sister’s listening habits is a bit silly. I mean, folks often know what their loved ones LIKE – my sister texts me every time she sees Meat Loaf on TV – but what they don’t? I have no idea what songs anyone I know/love hates. That said, if I am found dead and “Pumped Up Kicks” is on my iPod or whatever, alert the authorities. No way in hell I’d be listening to that fucking waste of aural space.
And again, it’s kind of sad. I don’t know why I’m such a sucker for horror movies that tug my heartstrings a little, but like Premonition or The Eclipse, it’s one of those movies that’ll make you wanna give your spouse an extra hard hug or kiss when you get home. Again, there’s a bit to the back-story that has a negative impact on the drama, but based on the film’s final scene, one can safely assume that this tidbit was either made up or forgiven. But if love’s not your thing, don’t worry – there’s a nice throat slitting, an electrocution, even an old lady whacking someone over the head. The body count is pretty impressive by the film’s end, even a character you KNOW will be safe gets it (possibly worse than anyone in the movie, in fact). Something for everyone!
The disc has a few bonus features, all pretty worthless. The “making of” is merely B-roll footage from the EPK, which just means a bunch of quick/random shots of Rueda running through a take or people pointing at lights or whatever. Then there are interviews with Rueda, Del Toro, Morales, and co-star Lluís Homar, which are too brief to be of much use, and also seem to come from the EPK as everything is pure fluff. Homar’s interview is LITERALLY just him saying how much he loved working with Rueda – it’s not even worth the effort of scrolling through the menu to select it. The trailer is also included, and it’s not bad but if you look quick it spoils the killer’s identity (again, not really a big deal; more of a “well now I know it’s NOT this or that character”).
Now, twice this week I’ve bitched about movies being too long, but this was also just under two hours and yet I was fully engaged throughout. Sure, I’d love to watch nothing but 90 or under movies every day, because that just means more time for Skyrim or catching up on ABC’s Revenge (best new show by far!), but in the end I don’t care if it’s 65 minutes or three hours long – if you have a strong lead and a real story, the length won’t be an issue. One of my favorite movies of all time is Dawn of the Dead, and that’s still one of the longest mainstream horror movies ever made (and if we go outside of horror you’ll find a ton of 2+ hr films on my list – hell I love Kevin Costner and that dude’s only made 2-3 movies that are UNDER two hours). I might not have the time for it, but if every horror movie I ever saw again for the rest of my life was this “long” but also this satisfying, I’d have nothing to complain about.
What say you?