Julia’s Eyes is the latest horror from Spain to be released on DVD. It is produced by Guillermo del Toro and stars Belén Rueda, who also appeared in the excellent creepy picture The Orphanage (El orfanato, 2007).
Julia is having a traumatic time. Her sister Sara (also played by Rueda) has been found dead, hanged in her cellar in a way that everyone perceives to be suicide. However, Julia is not convinced. She believes that Sara was murdered and is determined to discover the truth. She has additional problems in that her sight is deteriorating rapidly due to an increasingly degenerative eye condition which will eventually lead to blindness. Her only definable perception of the perpetrator, if one does actually exist, is a shape, a mysterious figure who eludes her each time she feels she is getting close to the truth. As she requires increasing social, medical and personal assistance, Julia faces an uncertain future where revelation and defence are the two only ways of dealing with her waking life.
Because of its emphasis on medical conditions as the focus of not only the film’s title but its plot perceptions, Julia’s Eyes is something of a cross between a horror and a thriller. The horror genre has become embroiled in elements of the mainstream and vice versa, notably in deviations of the crime drama or detective fiction so that even though the central concept of Julia’s Eyes points towards it being horror, the film itself tries to introduce a degree of ambiguity to proceedings. The scares portrayed could be defined as sociological, psychological or supernaturally based – all effective devices that can alter the narrative interpretation, keeping the film functional as a psychological and spiritual horror as well as maintaining a character based drama. The key revelation is timed so as not to dominate proceedings and ensures that character development remains central to the audience’s appreciation of the film. This is also useful in removing it from too much association with films like the Pang brothers’ enjoyable frightener The Eye (2002) or its re-make and sequels. Instead a variety of camera-based scares and editing help to maintain engagement with the story as it deliberately manipulates genre and audience expectations even as it reveals those very elements to them. Indeed you never see the faces of many of the characters until crucial moments of revelation.
Scenes of assault, flashback and realisation that those we are meant to trust could be perpetrators help keep the plot compelling. Julia’s Eyes is a well produced and deliberately not overly fantasised film that engages its horrors as real-life possibilities (if you perceive them as horrors at all) but is careful enough to balance proceedings between the drama and the shocks. While it may not appeal to all audiences, it stands as a solid example of scares well revealed and, like many good horrors, has enough plausibility to produce the frights.