Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Julia’s Eyes

The Eyes Have It

Julia’s Eyes Spain 2010
Directed by Guillem Morales
Playing at cinemas now.

Warning: Very mild on the spoilerage but avoid reading if you want to go in totally blind... so to speak.

If, like me, you found yourself recently sitting in a cinema waiting for the ads and trailers to finish so you can watch what you thought was a horror film... I can sympathise. Julia’s Eyes, while not specifically named as a horror movie in its marketing, has certainly not been as forthcoming as it could be about the type of movie it is either. The trailer, while not absolutely misleading, does tend to manipulate you in a certain direction, unless you are very aware of all the little things going on in it the first time around. And, of course, this impression is further compounded by the fact that the trailer is certainly not shy about the fact that the film stars the lead actress of supernatural Spanish hit The Orphanage and shares the same producers as that film. So it would be fair to make this assumption from the Marketing campaign, unless you really have sharp eyes for the kind of detail that is easily missed when it whizzes by, heavily cloaked by the speed and hoopla of the peculiar phenomenon that is the modern movie trailer.

But the point is... you’d be wrong.

Julia’s Eyes is really not a horror movie and is more along the lines of an intense thriller. More specifically perhaps, more along the lines of my favourite kinds of thrillers in this post-multiregion-DVD-world we are living in... the Italian giallo. Not necessarily in style but certainly in content. There are no flashy camera flourishes travelling along brightly lit, primary coloured sets while a progressive rock or atonal/jazz-beat soundtrack underscores the unravelling of the mystery. But it does share many of the situations and circumstances associated with the genre and it does get a little convoluted, even if the mystery is ultimately very obvious in the end. Yeah, there’s no surprises here as the movie skillfully propels the viewer to it’s frenetic denouement, but this doesn’t really matter much in the long run I reckon.

Belén Rueda plays dual roles as twin sisters in this movie but it’s really not spoiling it to reveal that one of those sisters dies in the pre-credits sequence. This is, after all, the blank reel of cotton from which the film weaves it’s narrative thread. Both sisters have a degenerative eyes condition leading to eventual blindness and both become aware of a lurking presence watching and waiting on them. But there are several murders, disguised to look like suicides so the police officials are easy to bypass as a necessary evil of this kind of story, and while you may, at first, feel that the degenerative eye condition is a hastily conceived plot device to allow the director and writer to press all the suspense and fear buttons when they feel the time is right (which, okay, yeah it is), it is also given a lot more attention than that and the eye condition, without giving too much away, is actually discovered to be a part of the plot itself and this kind of attention to sloppy story devices is a consistent and constant reiteration that we as an audience, are in good hands.

It doesn’t keep us from figuring out the ending of the movie or, specifically, figuring out how all the relationships between the various characters work and who the killer must be... but it does ensure that it’s a little trickier to second guess the director in some sequences because, and this is something a true giallo rarely does, it does tend to second guess the thought processes of the audience rather well... for example, if you notice that one of the characters has been in the film for a good long while and you haven’t even seen his face, the director will suddenly bring in another character whose face you will not see to attempt to throw you off the scent a little... a face you won’t see until there’s a bloody big knife going through it.

So! Short on surprises in the long run but certainly a well put together piece of movie making. Watching it is like looking at a well cared for timepiece or listening to the sound of a well oiled motor (and don’t ask me where that analogy comes from because I’m not in the least mechanically minded)... everything ticks along as well as you hope it will and the brilliant performances and excellent decisions about the tone of the film, mostly does a lot to carry the more than obvious plotting. Even when the director makes visual references to the sense of touch or progressively turns the sounds of everyday objects up as the central protagonist gets nearer and nearer to total blindness... one can forgive these little touches as nothing more than the tools of the trade when it comes to this kind of genre effort.

The only time the movie really comes close to ham-fistedness in anything other than the basic storyline is with some of the musical scoring towards the end of the movie which, while it’s been a quite subtle use of underscore all the way through (and indeed is quite mesmerising on the end credits) suddenly gets clunkier and gives the impression of being a little overscored. This is possibly foregrounded in the mix a little more than it should have been in comparison with the rest of the score which, while that old-style Hollywood approach can certainly work in modern scoring... (if the modern series of Doctor Who has taught me nothing else then it’s that) then I think that style of sound mixing needs to be established much earlier in the film to avoid jarring you out of the action... which this movie does in some of the later sequences. Not to take anything away from Fernando Velázquez, who provided such a strong (and commercially unreleased... grrr) score for M. Night Shyamalan’s Devil and for the aforementioned The Orphanage, but I would have loved to have heard this movie scored by Roque Baños in his full Herrmannesque mode. I think that would have given the film an extra lift to it.

Still a really nice little movie if you’ve a mind to see a thriller at the cinema one evening... but with one exception for which people may well remember it in years to come. I’m not going to give the game away too much but, there’s one shot... one little shot... where most people are going to just want to look away from the screen. What is it? Well lets just say it gives the opening sequence of Salvador Dali and Luis Bunuel’s Un Chien Andalou a run for its money... and that’s all I will reveal. It’s not going to sit well with the squeemish amongst you.

So... final verdict. Nice movie. Definitely worth seeing once... I personally probably wouldn’t watch it again but am happy to recommend it to those of you who appreciate a well-running piece of movie making machinery... just don’t expect any real twists and turns on the way.

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