If a film opens with “Presented by Guillermo del Toro” you know you’re in for something interesting. I’d go as far as to say del Toro’s name carries more promise than a “Presented by Quentin Tarantino” or any modern film that’s “Presented by Steven Spielberg”. I love Tarantino but when his name is attached to a film he didn’t direct it’s always trashy exploitation you find in a bin at 7/11. Spielberg produced a lot of great movies (and cartoons) in the ‘80s and ‘90s but it’s always been mainstream low-risk, blockbusters. Del Toro is far more niche. When del Toro attaches his name to a project you know it’s a story that resonates with him on a personal level. Del Toro loves stories with whimsy and dark fantasy. Films that find beauty in dark places. Much of which could be used to describe today’s film, the 2010 Spanish Horror-Thriller Julia’s Eyes.
Julia’s Eyes was the second film of Spanish director Guillem Morales. It’s also his last. Morales has kept busy since 2010 with a handful of TV gigs, like directing several episodes of the underrated British anthology Inside No. 9, but this is where his career as a feature director takes a bow (so far anyway). Why is that? Why didn’t Morales breakout like fellow Spanish filmmaker J.A. Bayona? Both started their careers at the same time, both worked with del Toro, they’re even the same age. I think it comes down to commercial viability. Julia’s Eyes is not a commercial movie, though, in a way, that might be what makes it so compelling in the first place.
The story begins with a blind woman named Sara (Belén Rueda) being stalked in her home by an unseen presence. Sara is tormented by the figure and eventually driven to suicide. Standing on a stool with a noose around her neck, Sara has second thoughts only to have the stool kicked away from her, killing her in the process. Meanwhile, Sara’s twin sister Julia (also played by Rueda) senses something terrible has happened. She goes to check on her sister with her husband Isaac (Lluís Homar) and so begins her own trip down the rabbit hole.
Knowing her sister had scheduled surgery to restore her vision, Julia believes there is more to the story. Julia finds clues from Sara’s elderly blind neighbor Soledad (Julia Gutiérrez Caba) and investigates a hotel where Sara used to go with an anonymous boyfriend. Here, Julia encounters a creepy janitor who warns her of “men who live in shadows”. Around this time Julia’s husband goes missing and on top of that, she starts losing her own vision, suffering from the same degenerative eye disease her sister had. Julia later goes through a procedure to restore her sight only to leave her in a blindfold for the last half of the film.
Julia’s Eyes is more a murder-mystery than a straight-up horror flick. I wouldn’t say the film has scares as much as it has tension. One of the tensest scenes is when Julia finds herself in a locker room of naked blind women discussing her sister. The idea that you’re hiding in plain sight and being found out? No thanks. The film has no shortage of odd and unusual characters and only builds on the craziness as Julia finds herself drawn deeper into the dark.
The winding mystery of Julia’s Eyes is both the film’s greatest asset and greatest weakness. The story is detailed and stylish with all the flares of a Dario Argento Giallo i.e. murder, men in black gloves, milky-eyed blind people, etc. The problem lies in this film feels like it’s doing too much. Coming in at almost two hours (it feels longer) at times I felt like I was watching two movies. There’s the mystery of the dead sister movie and then the blind woman (Julia) being stalked movie in the second half. Both are interesting but the experience can be unwieldy.
Without spoiling anything I can say the film does end on a bittersweet note as does The Orphanage or a good chunk of del Toro’s dark fantasies. There can be passing moments of beauty in the darkness but it’s inevitable that darkness will prevail. Everything comes to an end, but it’s how you get there that’s worth remembering and this is a film worth remembering.
Happy Shocktober everyone!